The Second Vow: To Praise the ¡§Thus Come One¡¨
The second vow is to ¡§Praise the ¡¥Thus Come One¡¦¡¨. Since, the first vow is ¡§To respect all Buddhas¡¨ why do we not rephrase them as one, ¡§Praise and respect all Buddhas¡¨? There is a profound meaning within these two vows. ¡§Respect all Buddhas¡¨ applies to behavior. When considering the form, we are to show respect for everybody, regardless of whether they are good or bad. Also, we are to respect all laws whether they are accepted or heretical. ¡§Praise the ¡¥Thus Come One¡¦¡¨ applies to nature. So, there is a difference. We admire the good but not the bad, although we respect the latter as well. And therein lies the difference.
In the Flower Adornment Sutra, Sudhana understood this very well. He respected and praised nearly every one of the fifty-three spiritual guides he visited. However, three of them he respected but did not praise; Fasumiduo, Shengrepoluomen and Ganluhuowang. The first was a prostitute and symbolized lust or greed. The second was a heretic and symbolized ignorance. The third was hot-tempered and symbolized anger, punishing those who caused him the slightest offense by plunging them into boiling oil or driving them into a hill of daggers. These three symbolized the Three Poisons of greed, anger and ignorance. To Sudhana, the three were to be respected but not praised. So, we see that praise is linked to virtue.
Only good characteristics and accepted laws deserve praise. But we still respect all beings and things because respect reflects purity of mind and the virtue of respecting others equally. We respect heretical beliefs while we praise accepted ones such as Christianity, which helps raise people to the heaven realms. This is not achieving the perfect, complete enlightenment, but it is infinitely better than heretical beliefs that will lead people to fall into the three lower realms. So, we praise Christianity. However, we never praise cults for they encourage people to commit wrongdoings.
We can see that there is a big difference between the first and second vows although both come from a pure and perfect intention.
The Third Vow: To Make Offerings Extensively
The primary characteristic of Universal Worthy Bodhisattva is an immeasurably broad and compassionate mind, which in Mahayana Buddhism is considered as the perfect function of the self-nature. Ordinary Bodhisattvas have seen to their self-nature, but it is partial, not perfect. Only the virtuous character of Universal Worthy Bodhisattva is perfect. All his vows are directed to all beings in the universe. Herein lies the difference between Universal Worthy Bodhisattva and ordinary Bodhisattvas who practice just the Six Paramitas. An offering to one Buddha is an offering to all Buddhas. His offerings are not only made to Buddhas but also to sentient and non-sentient beings. Therefore, "One is all and all is one". With this great broad-mindedness, we can attain the non-discriminatory and boundless perfection.
Universal Worthy Bodhisattva told us that of all the many kinds of offerings, that of the teachings is supreme. However, only the Buddha¡¦s teachings can help sentient beings break through confusion and delusion, to uncover the perfect self-nature, to become enlightened. No other kind of offering can do this. As Buddhism is an education, we are to honor the teacher and revere his or her teachings. Only in this way, can we attain perfect, complete enlightenment.
In the teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni, which sutra is the most important? In the Sui and Tang dynasties, over a thousand years ago, great Buddhist scholars studied and compared all of the sutras from Buddha Shakyamuni¡¦s forty-nine years of teaching. They agreed that the Flower Adornment Sutra was the most important. So, the Flower Adornment Sutra was commonly acknowledged as the perfect teaching. The scholars then made comparisons between the Infinite Life Sutra and the Flower Adornment Sutra and concluded that the Infinite Life Sutra was higher than the Flower Adornment Sutra. They explained that the Flower Adornment Sutra and the Lotus Sutra are the two most important. In Chinese Buddhism, they are called the ¡§First Vehicle Perfect Teachings¡¨. Both function as the guide to the Infinite Life Sutra. Therefore, the Infinite Life Sutra is really the number one teaching.
When I first read this, I was very pleased because it agreed with my personal experience. It was the Flower Adornment Sutra that guided me to Pure Land Buddhism. I lectured on this sutra for seventeen years. Later, I only lectured on the ¡§Chapter of Universal Worthy¡¦s Conduct and Vows¡¨ from the Flower Adornment Sutra. During these seventeen years, I deeply comprehended the meaning of the Ten Great Vows of Universal Worthy Bodhisattva in guiding beings to the Western Pure Land. This Pure Land is the essence and the final destination of the Flower Adornment. From this experience, I realized that the ancient masters were right.
So we know what is the best and most important among all of Buddha Shakyamuni¡¦s teachings. However, it was only after Mr. Lian-Ju Xia, a Buddhist layman, edited a compilation of the five versions of the original translations of the Infinite Life Sutra that we could enjoy a perfect benefit. The great project of editing such an extensive literary collection demonstrated that Mr. Xia was not an ordinary person, but rather the manifestation of a Great Bodhisattva. This great being felt compassion for the sentient beings in our world, which revealed that the opportunity for many beings to attain Buddhahood, had matured. Thus, he manifested in our world to compile the sutra versions and propagate the Pure Land method during our Dharma Ending Age.
When I visited Beijing, a student of Mr. Xia presented me with a photo of his teacher. Upon returning to Taiwan, I printed an enlarged copy of the photo. Although it is not very clear due to repeated duplications, an amazing phenomenon is apparent. Behind Mr. Xia¡¦s head the image of a Buddha appears. Light is emitting from this image as well as from below his shoes. Although the photo has been reduplicated many times, we can still clearly see that the image over Mr. Xia¡¦s head is that of a Buddha sitting on his lotus seat. We placed the photo in a prominent position to express our gratitude to this great Bodhisattva for having given us such a gift and for guiding us in our cultivation and propagation of Buddhism.
The Infinite Life Sutra is the most important sutra for helping all beings to attain Buddhahood. It contains forty-eight chapters. Which chapter is number one? Of all the chapters, chapter six is the most important. It tells us of Buddha Amitabha¡¦s Forty-eight Vows. When we read the Infinite Life Sutra, we see that Buddha Shakyamuni accorded with these vows when he introduced the history and background of the Pure Land.
Which of these vows is number one? The great scholars and monks in ancient China agreed that the eighteenth vow is number one. It tells us that ten recitations of Buddha Amitabha¡¦s name will result in birth into the Pure Land. In my early years of study, I questioned whether the Buddha had the ability to help a person to immediately become a Buddha, even if he or she was doomed to birth in the Avici Hell, the lowest of the hell realms. If the Buddha was unable to accomplish this, then his wisdom and ability were limited. To say that he had all virtues, perfect abilities was complimentary rather than factual. But, if the Buddha were capable of helping such a person become a Buddha, then I would believe that he was perfect in wisdom and capabilities, and was thus worthy of our admiration. This question remained unanswered until after I read the forty-eight vows of Buddha Amitabha in the sutra. Then, I realized that the Buddha¡¦s wisdom and virtuous character are indeed, perfect and universal.
The Buddha is indeed capable of helping a person who has committed serious offenses to become a Buddha. The question lies in whether or not the person believes and accepts. If not, then the fault lies with the individual, not the Buddha. So, after reading the Infinite Life Sutra we know that anyone who sincerely practices the recitation method will surely succeed.
In the earlier example of Master Di-Xian and the student who so successfully chanted ¡§Namo Amituofo¡¨ for three years, the student knew in advance when he would be born into the Pure Land. He told the woman who brought his food daily, that she need not bring it the following day. After he passed away from this world, he remained in a standing position for three days waiting for his master to come to make final arrangements. His birth into the Pure Land was into the highest level. His accomplishment is proof of the eighteenth vow, which explains to us that this birth can be accomplished with just ten recitations of ¡§Amituofo¡¨.
Anyone who firmly believes in this method surely has good roots, great merits and virtues. The Infinite Life Sutra explains that the monk¡¦s rebirth after such a short time of practice was due to his having made offerings to innumerable Buddhas in previous lifetimes. As a result, he was able to believe and practice. Without his good roots from previous lifetimes, he would not have been able to believe regardless of what his teacher had said.
The name of Buddha Amitabha contains infinite meanings. It is the name of the universe, so it includes everything. If we want to know the meaning of the name, we can read the Infinite Life Sutra, the explanation of the name. If we want to understand the Infinite Life Sutra we can read the Flower Adornment Sutra, for it is a detailed explanation of the Infinite Life Sutra. If we want to understand the Flower Adornment Sutra we can read the entire Great Canon for it is the detailed explanation of the Flower Adornment Sutra. By using this method to understand the sutras, we will know that the merit and virtue of the name of Buddha Amitabha are truly extraordinary.
This name alone contains all of Buddhism as well as all laws throughout the universe. Therefore, to chant this name is to chant all sutras. During the reign of Emperor Qianlong, there was a famous monk Ciyun Guan-ding. Among his many works is the Directory to the Visualization Sutra, which tells us that when we seek escape from disasters we can resort to reciting sutras, chanting mantras or drawing divination slips. However, if a person has committed grave wrongdoings then the only thing that will work is to recite ¡§Namo Amituofo¡¨. From this, we understand that this is the best method to follow when facing disaster. Many people do not know this so they resort to other methods. Therefore, a person who is ill may recite the Medicine Master Sutra and when faced with disaster may recite the ¡§Universal Door Chapter". This person does not know that the merits and virtues of Buddha Name Recitation make it the number one method.
Then why did Buddha Shakyamuni not tell us so directly? Why did he teach us so many sutras and methods? Because many people do not believe in the Buddha Name Recitation Method. So, he kept the finest method for last. This is similar to what we see in the Taiwan Palace Museum. Most people consider the beautiful jade collection of the Qing Dynasty, to be more valuable than the bronze ware, which resembles pieces of metal, not realizing the bronze ware is the most valuable part of the collection in the museum. Similarly, most people do not realize the true value of Buddha Name Recitation. So, the Buddha had to teach all the sutras to guide sentient beings to the Pure Land.
Master Shan Dao told us that the only purpose for all Buddhas to manifest in the world is to tell us of the original vows of Buddha Amitabha. Today, we can truly understand, cultivate and propagate the Pure Land method. Truthfully, this is due to the support of the Triple Jewels. Also, the opportunities today for sentient beings to achieve attainment are very good. In the past five to six years, millions of copies of the Infinite Life Sutra have been printed and spread throughout the world. I have traveled around the world introducing and recommending this sutra. Many people have liked and accepted it. Seeing you here working and practicing so earnestly, I am very pleased and feel that my hard work has been rewarded. Therefore, if we can practice and widely propagate this method, than I can say that we have perfectly fulfilled the vow to ¡§Make Offerings Extensively¡¨.
The methods used by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are infinite in number. They are the display of great compassion and lead to birth into the Pure Land. For example, Universal Worthy Bodhisattva is the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. Also, Zhun Ti Bodhisattva, one of the great patriarchs of Tibetan Buddhism, is a manifestation of Guan Yin Bodhisattva. Both Universal Worthy Bodhisattva and Guan Yin Bodhisattva urge us to seek birth into the Western Pure Land. We ordinary people discriminate between Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism, but Buddhas and Bodhisattvas with their perfect freedom and non-discriminatory minds do not discriminate among the different schools. All eighty-four thousand methods lead to the same goal. With this understanding, we will naturally respect all methods and schools.
The Fourth Vow: To Regret Karmic Obstacles
Everybody has karmic obstacles. Every thought in a person¡¦s mind causes a karmic act, which in turn will certainly results in an obstacle. What is obstructed? Our true nature, within which there is infinite wisdom and virtue. There are two types of obstacles: those caused by afflictions and those caused by knowledge-attachment. We create these constantly. The Buddha told us in the Flower Adornment Sutra, ¡§All beings have the Buddha¡¦s wisdom and virtue but cannot attain them due to their wandering thoughts and attachments¡¨. Like a doctor, the Buddha pointed out the root cause of our illness. Attachments are the root cause of afflictions and wandering thoughts are the root cause of knowledge-attachment. For all methods, learning and cultivation is simply a matter of doing away with our wandering thoughts and attachments. Once we do this, we will uncover our Buddha nature. All the methods in Buddhism teach us to regret our karmic obstacles. Thus, to regret karmic obstacles is the key to our cultivation.
However, it is very difficult to remove these obstacles. Of all the methods, that of the Pure Land is unique. For even if we have committed an extremely grave crime such as one of the Five Deadly Offenses and are thus destined to fall into the Avici Hell, we can still remove our obstacles and attain Buddhahood. We need to feel remorse, vow to change and practice Buddha Name Recitation and accord with the Buddha's teachings to attain birth into the Pure Land. This is why Master Ciyun said that this recitation method alone is able to dispel obstacles, for they cannot be dispelled reciting sutras or mantras.
In the past few years there was a theory being circulated that said a person with remaining karma could not attain birth into the Pure Land. This greatly shocked and panicked Pure Land practitioner. When I went to Los Angeles in1984, I was asked if this was really true. On hearing the question, I smiled and said, ¡§If it were true that no person with remaining karma could be born into the Pure Land, then the only person there would be Buddha Amitabha. What then is the use of going there?¡¨ The person questioned ¡§Why?¡¨ I replied, ¡§Have you ever heard of the four lands, three kinds and nine grades in the Pure Land?¡¨ He replied that he had read of them in the sutras. I told him ¡§If no one with remaining karma had been born into the Pure Land, why are there four lands, three kinds and nine levels?¡¨ With this, he understood.
The division of lands, kinds and levels is based on the amount of remaining karma. With heavier karma, we are born into a lower grade: with light karma, a higher grade. I then explained, ¡§Guan Yin Bodhisattva, Manjushri Bodhisattva and Universal Worthy Bodhisattva are all Equal Enlightenment Bodhisattvas. The sutras tell us that even Bodhisattvas of this high level still possess one degree of remaining ignorance. Isn¡¦t this a karmic act?¡¨ My questioner was relieved at my words. So even an Equal Enlightenment Bodhisattva goes to the Pure Land with remaining karma. Buddha Amitabha is the only one there without any karma. I then concluded, ¡§Who says that a person with remaining karma cannot be born into the Pure Land¡¨! My words seemed to help as the individual laughed merrily for he began to see that all beings in the Pure Land had gone there with their remaining karma.
Buddhism teaches us not to be angry or hold grudges against others. So, I added ¡§It is not wrong to advocate extinguishing karma for it is good to carry as little karma to the Pure Land as possible. In this way the person can attain birth into a higher level¡¨.
Later, I went to New York. As soon as I got off the plane, I was asked the same question. People did not know the truth. As soon as I explained, they understood that it was not wrong to have karma. Extinguishing karma is good for it is feeling remorse for the obstacle.
Buddha Name Recitation is a sincere act of feeling remorse and vowing to change. However, when feeling remorse we must be sure that our heart is the same as Buddha Amitabha¡¦s, our vow is the same as Buddha Amitabha¡¦s and our behavior corresponds with that of Buddha Amitabha. How do we do this? With sincerity by not merely reciting with our mouth but with our heart. In this way, we will perfectly fulfill the teachings in the sutras. Only by doing so can it be said that we are true cultivators of the recitation method. Be sure that with every thought of ¡§Amituofo¡¨ we have the same thought and vow as the Buddha. We need to turn his forty-eight vows into our own. Only in this way can we be rid of karmic transgressions.
The Fifth Vow: To be Joyful over Others Meritorious Deeds
This requires us to go against what seems so natural to us, jealousy. It is natural for humans to have this emotion. For example, small children appear unhappy when others receive more candy than they do. This is jealousy and it is a major obstacle to our self-cultivation. Universal Worthy Bodhisattva largely attributed this vow to jealousy. He taught us not to feel envy but rather to regard others meritorious deeds as our own and to further assist them in their endeavors.