Forty-eight Aspects of Buddha Recitation

1) Buddha Recitation and the Mind

Having made up your mind to engage in Pure Land practice by reciting the Buddha's name, you should not dwell on sundry good or bad actions (1) once they have been performed. In other words, everyday activities should be carried out in a matter-of-fact way, and once finished, be let go. (2) Do not hold on to them - or they will disturb your peace of mind.

In fact, the reason you fail to let go of sundry good or bad actions is that your mind has not yet been tamed. If you have recited the Buddha's name to the point where the mind-ground is bright and clear, the mind in samadhi has no room for sundry thoughts.

You should realize that Buddha Recitation can turn ordinary persons into sages. It is the most important means of liberation in this world and the worlds beyond.

Commentary. Daily occupations are overly time-consuming. The dusts of the world -- layers upon layers of them -- cling to our lives. As a result, we cannot be free of speculation and calculation, and too much calculation causes the mind to churn and be in turmoil; too much turmoil saps our energy and spirit. Therefore, when we realize that this life is fleeting, not permanent - a matter of borrowing and repaying - and return to the spiritual life, everlasting and true, we cannot but let go of false realms to live in the realm of True Suchness. Mundane or sacred, deluded or enlightened - everything is but Mind alone. (3) 

2) Watch the Mouth during Buddha Recitation

Having decided to practice Buddha Recitation, do not be reckless or inconsiderate with words, nor let your speech be tainted by the bad karma of killing, stealing, sexual misconduct and dishonesty. (4) If you have erred, remind yourself immediately that Pure Land practitioners should not utter inconsiderate words, and then recite the Buddha's name aloud a few times to quell the mind and immediately wash away the unclean words.

Commentary. As disciples of the Buddha practicing Buddha Recitation, we should naturally watch our tongues. If we inadvertently utter meaningless or inconsiderate words, we should reflect upon them and repent. I refer not just to words which do not benefit anyone, but even more to those which cause suffering and resentment in others - in which case not a single word should cross our lips. The Buddha is purity itself - what good can come out of reciting His name with an impure tongue? The Brahma Net Sutra (5) teaches that day after day, we give rise to the three evil karma of body, speech and mind; the instances of evil speech karma are incalculable.

The mouth is the door to myriad karma, evil or good. Therefore, we should think carefully before speaking. Furthermore, for those who practice Buddha Recitation, speech has to be purer still. In other words, a careless word, a wicked word, must be eradicated in its gestation stage, before it has taken form - it should never be allowed to escape our lips. To cultivate body and mind but not speech is a great mistake!  

3) Regulating the Body during Buddha Recitation

Having decided to practice Buddha Recitation, you must keep your body pure (6) at all times and in all movements and gestures - whether walking, standing, sitting or reclining. When the body is pure, the mind will also be pure.

The Pure Land practitioner should ponder this teaching. It is never wrong.

Commentary. The body has a strong influence on the mind. Therefore, in order to have a strong, upright spirit and an unflinching faith in both self-power and Other-power (the power of the Buddhas), and to practice Buddha Recitation resolutely, it is necessary to cultivate an exceptionally pure body before starting out. The mind is pure because the body-karma is tranquil and undefiled. Thus, for Buddha recitation to yield good results, the first condition is to keep the body pure. 

4) Buddha Recitation with a Rosary

With this method, the rosary is fingered with each recitation of the Buddha's name. The word "Amitabha" may be recited, rather than the long formula "Namo Amitabha Buddha", as it is very easy to achieve singlemindedness with the shorter expression.

You can finger the rosary upon the first or third syllable of the word "Amitabha", but whichever you decide, you should stick to it and not make mistakes. This is the method of using the rosary to focus the mind.

Commentary. The purpose of fingering the rosary is to achieve singlemindedness - each recitation following the previous one without a single intervening delusive thought. It is as though all the beads are glued together without a single gap.

Moreover, such recitation is a skillful means of reminding beginners who have not yet achieved correct thought to focus on the Buddha's name. Through this method, the indolent can become industrious, the dilatory can redouble their efforts and strive harder. When correct thought is achieved, the Buddha's name does not leave the mind - at that time, whether or not one uses a rosary no longer matters. Therefore, practitioners of limited good roots need this method as an expedient. Otherwise, there is no use buying a rosary and letting it gather dust. 

5) Reciting Aloud

When your mind is in a state of torpor or when delusive thoughts arise unchecked, compose yourself and recite the Buddha's name aloud a few hundred times. You will then naturally experience a pure, peaceful state. This is because the faculty of hearing is very keen and therefore people are easily influenced by external factors which disturb the mind and lead to errant, delusive thoughts. Thus, you need to recite aloud to control the faculty of hearing and enlighten the mind. When the mind hears only its own sounds, each sound in its totality following upon the one before, all thoughts of right and wrong, what should and should not be done, are naturally abandoned.

Commentary. When we are exhausted and sluggish, we tend to doze off or feel as if something were pressing on both body and mind. If we engage in pure, silent recitation at such times, our lethargy can only increase.

Therefore, it is better to recite aloud, pondering that the Buddha's name originates from the Self-Mind and returns to the Self-Mind through the ears in an unending circle. We should continue to practice in this manner until the mind clears up, the demon of drowsiness disappears and only Buddha Recitation remains, clear and distinct. Only then should we stop.  

6) Buddha Recitation in a Low Voice

When the mind is scattered, or when you are tired and weighed down by many pressing tasks, you need not recite aloud. You need only focus your mind and thoughts and recite carefully in a low voice.

Only when your breath returns to normal, your spirits rise, and your mind is calm and at peace, should you recite aloud.

Commentary. The purpose of reciting the Buddha's name in a low voice is to treat the disease of scattered mind. There are times when the volume and pressure of work or other demanding activities make mind and body overburdened and weary. At these times, it is better to recite in a low voice, as reciting aloud can only add fuel to the fire and increase the power of the demon of scattered mind. To recite in a low voice, with each word, each sentence clearly and carefully enunciated, gradually settles the mind. When that point is reached, one can then recite aloud. 

7) Diamond Recitation

If the mind is agitated and the breath uneven, something is bothering you, or reciting the Buddha's name either aloud or in a low voice is inconvenient, you should just move your lips, practicing silent recitation (Diamond Recitation). With this method, the number of recitations does not matter; the essential condition is that each word, each recitation should come from the mind.

Commentary. The Diamond method differs from recitation in a low voice in that the lips move but no sound is heard. This method is useful when our sleeping or living quarters are close to someone else's. In such circumstances, reciting in a loud or a low voice might disturb them. We should then just move our lips and practice Diamond recitation. The number of recitations does not matter as long as the Buddha's name originates in the Self-Mind, moves the tip of the tongue and produces a sublime sound. Even though the sound is not audible, it reverberates throughout the Dharma realm (cosmos) while remaining part of the current recitation. 

8) Silent recitation

There are instances when it is not appropriate to recite either aloud or in a low voice. There are times when it is awkward to finger a rosary. There are still other times when even Diamond Recitation may be inappropriate. (7) For such instances, the ancients have devised an excellent expedient. It is not to move the lips, not to utter a sound, but merely to concentrate mind and thoughts on recitation, silently touching the upper front teeth with the tongue, or alternatively, to visualize this action. The only condition is that the Buddha's name be clear and distinct, though it is uttered not from the mouth but from the Self-Nature. The faculty of hearing and the inner mind interpenetrate, the inner mind is stamped on the tip of the tongue, the tip of the tongue pulls along the faculty of recitation, the faculty of hearing hears the Self-Nature - the three (inner mind, hearing, recitation) form one unit. Recitation interpenetrates with recitation -- in time the visualization of "everything as Mind-Only" is realized.

Commentary. This silent recitation method, when used to perfect the visualization of Mind-Only is somewhat difficult and is a high-level practice. It is reserved for the most part for those advanced along the path of cultivation. The cultivator must employ visualization-mind not recitation-thought. He does not move his lips, yet the sound is clear and distinct. It is the sound of the Self-Nature. This is the method of "reverting the faculty of hearing to hear the sound of the Self-Nature. " To perfect such recitation is to penetrate the true nature of all dharmas, to penetrate the truth that everything is made from Mind alone. 

9) Regulating the Breath

When the mind is at peace and the breath is regular, you should first visualize yourself seated in a circular zone of light, then visualize the breath going in and out of your nose as you silently recite the Buddha's name once with each breath. You should regulate the breath so that it is neither slow nor hurried, the mind and the breath reinforcing each other, following each other in and out. Whether walking or standing, reclining or sitting, proceed in this manner without interruption.

If you always "secretly recite" in the above manner, focusing the mind over a long period of time, there will no longer be a distinction between the breath and the recitation - your body and mind merging with empty space. When recitation is perfected, the mind-eye will open up and samadhi is suddenly realized. This is the state of Mind-Only Pure Land. (8)

Commentary. This method is similar to Counting the Breath Meditation, which is one of the Six Profound Dharma Doors [leading to Nirvana]. It utilizes the counting of each breath to regularize inhaling and exhaling. Each breath, whether in or out, is accompanied by a silent recitation of the Buddha's name, in an even manner, neither too slow nor too fast. Otherwise, the recitation could become an obstacle to achieving one-pointedness of mind. Through this kind of uninterrupted recitation, the mind becomes pure, free of distractions, and merges with the unimpeded immensity of empty space - everything is Mind-Only. And, if the mind is pure, the environment is also entirely pure - as far as we are concerned. 

10) Reciting in Accordance with Individual Circumstances

When experiencing lethargy and drowsiness, you should practice circumambulation while reciting the Buddha's name. 

When besieged by numerous sundry thoughts, sit straight and recite silently. If neither circumambulation nor sitting is appropriate, you can kneel or stand, or even lie down for a moment or adopt any other suitable position to recite. The important thing is not to forget the words "Amitabha Buddha", even for an instant. This is the secret for reining in the mind-demon (deluded mind).

Commentary. Buddha Recitation is not limited to periods of leisure, or those appointed times when, having cleansed ourselves, we sit or kneel before the Buddha's altar - we must absolutely never neglect recitation. This is because the mind and thoughts of sentient beings are too agitated in everyday life. As soon as there is an empty interval, sundry thoughts immediately arise to disturb the mind.

Therefore, whether walking, standing, sitting or reclining, whether speaking or silent, whether the mind is agitated or at peace, we must strive to recite the Buddha's name without allowing sundry thoughts to intervene. Like a general guarding a town or a cat stalking a mouse, there must not be an instant's interruption. Any form of uninterrupted recitation of the Buddha's name, suitable to the individual's circumstances and environment, is acceptable, as long as the mind is concentrated on the Buddha's name. 

11) Buddha recitation Can Be Practiced Anywhere

Whether you are in a clean or a dirty place, a quiet, out-of-the-way location or the marketplace, a place you like or a place you abhor, you need only engage in introspection and "return the light inward", thinking thus: I have encountered situations like this countless times throughout numerous lifetimes, yet there is one thing I have not been able to do: it is to recite the Buddha's name and achieve rebirth in the Pure Land. Therefore, even now I am still subject to the cycle of Birth and Death. By now I should not worry about where recitation takes place. I need only hold securely to this 'mind of Buddha Recitation' - even if it costs my life. I must recite without interruption, one recitation after another without a single gap.

Why is this? It is because if there is a single interruption, all kinds of sundry thoughts - good, bad or neutral -- will arise. For this reason, even when in the bathroom, even in the process of giving birth, you should concentrate on reciting the Buddha's name. The greater the hardship, the greater the suffering, the more you need to recite - just as an infant cries out for his mother, unafraid that she will become upset or angry...

Commentary. Those who lack a deep understanding of the Dharma generally believe that to recite in dirty places such as bathrooms creates bad karma. However, this is not true in Pure Land Buddhism because the Buddha's name should be ever present in our minds. If we interrupt our recitation when taking a meal, urinating, defecating, etc., sundry delusive thoughts will insert themselves between the recitations. If sundry thoughts arise, one after another without interruption, how can we avoid committing transgressions and revolving in the ocean of Birth and Death?

At present, most of us are not fully committed to uninterrupted Buddha Recitation and thus improper thoughts arise - countless afflictions, sufferings and hardships. We should therefore redouble our efforts to practice more and practice harder, always reciting the Buddha's name - except when we are busy. Nothing worthwhile happens naturally. Everything requires a great deal of work and effort before success is achieved. So many things in life will try our patience and make us grieve. To avoid them, there is nothing better than holding firmly to the Buddha's name.

Buddha Amitabha is like a compassionate mother watching over her infant child. There is no mother who does not care for her children. Buddha Amitabha will never abandon sentient beings, nor will he ever be angry with them, otherwise, he could never have become a Buddha! It is the same for all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas; none lack mercy or compassion. I exhort all of you to engage in Buddha Recitation and not belittle this practice. 

12) Fixed Periods of Buddha Recitation

With the previous method, you are enjoined to practice Buddha Recitation at all times without interruption. However, because there are no definite periods for Buddha Recitation [the method demands a good deal of self-discipline]. Few people can therefore practice it.

With this method, the expedient of fixed periods of recitation is introduced. There should usually be two periods per day, in the morning and in the evening, and these periods should be strictly observed every day, without fail, throughout life.

Furthermore, if during the twenty-four hour period, you can recite the Buddha's name one additional time, do it once; if you can recite it many times, do so many times. It does not matter whether the recitation is audible or not. The ancients had a saying:

Utter one fewer idle phrase;

Recite the Buddha's name one more time;

How wonderful it is!

Commentary. There are people who cannot recite the Buddha's name at all times, because of work or family obligations. Thus, we have the expedient of fixed periods of Buddha Recitation. In this way, everyone can practice the Pure Land method. One crucial point to remember: once the fixed periods are established, they should be adhered to without deviation, even during sickness or other suffering. The above notwithstanding, whenever we have a free moment, we should immediately think of the Buddha's name. 

To replace sentient beings' thoughts with Buddha-thoughts, while not necessarily a sublime method, is still a rare expedient which can turn delusion into enlightenment. 

13) Facing an Image or not, during Buddha Recitation

When facing a statue of the Buddha, consider it as a real Buddha. There is no need to get attached to any particular direction or to any of the Three Bodies of the Buddha. (9) You should think thus: I must achieve singlemindedness, and that singlemindedness must be about the Buddha. My eyes should be focused on the Buddha's image, my mind should recite the Buddha's name with utmost sincerity - with utmost sincerity, a response is guaranteed.

If you do not have a statue, just sit straight facing west. As soon as you begin reciting, visualize the Buddha's light shining on your head, recitation following recitation without a break. If you practice this way, even the heaviest karma can be dissipated.

Commentary. Practitioners of limited capacities, who cannot yet visualize "this Mind is the Buddha", should use the expedient of facing a Buddha image and "moved by the image, develop a pure mind". The important thing is to be utterly sincere, because only with utmost sincerity can we "touch" the Buddha and receive a response.

This method has been clearly explained and there is no need for lengthy comments. The practitioner should read the above passage closely and follow its teachings. Evil karma will then disappear and the Buddha Mind will manifest itself. 

14) Buddha Recitation While Otherwise Occupied

[In the midst of a busy life], if you can recite the Buddha's name once, recite it once; if you can recite it ten times, recite it ten times. In the midst of endless activities, if you have but one moment of leisure, you need only let go of everything and recite the Buddha's name clearly and distinctly. 

The famous Chinese poet Su Tung-p'o wrote the following verse:

Recite the Buddha's name while walking;

Recite the Buddha's name while seated.

Even when busy as an arrow,

Always recite the Buddha's name.

The ancients practiced Buddha Recitation with such eagerness indeed! Truly, they should be emulated.

Commentary. There are people who are so busy with daily occupations that they can scarcely find time to recite the Buddha's name. Nevertheless, amidst a hundred different activities, there must be one or two moments of free time. During these moments, we should immediately begin to recite the Buddha's name, rather than letting the mind wander aimlessly, [reminiscing] and suffering needlessly. Handle the affairs of this world as they come and let go of them afterward. Why harp on them and be disturbed? Why not use the time to recite the Buddha's name and keep the mind at rest? Many people waste endless hours in idle chatter, bringing countless troubles and vexations upon themselves. Sometimes, a few sentences uttered thoughtlessly in pleasant conversation are enough to cause worry and affliction, suffering and tears! 

15) Buddha Recitation During Periods of Leisure

In this world, there are many unfortunate people who cannot enjoy a moment of leisure, however much they may so desire. Therefore, they cannot cultivate. Today you have the time, and moreover, the opportunity to learn about the practice of Buddha Recitation; you should make every effort to collect body and mind to recite the Buddha's name at all times, assiduously and without interruption. In this way, you will not be wasting time. If you let your mind and thoughts wander, not achieving anything worthwhile, wasting endless days and months, turning your back on the Four Great Debts, and then, tomorrow the Ghost of Impermanence suddenly arrives, what can you do to resist it?

Commentary. There are people who wish to have some leisure time to practice Buddha Recitation, but cannot find it. Life today is full of pressing obligations, but we should not delay any longer. Let us redouble our efforts to recite the Buddha's name, not letting time fly by, bringing us to old age and death. At that time, no matter how much we may wish for a little bit of time, no matter how much we may long to postpone death by even an hour to recite the Buddha's name, it is impossible. All that is left are regrets. 

16) Practicing Buddha Recitation When Rich and Renowned

Merits and virtues in this life all stem from cultivation in past lifetimes. This is true of those who presently enjoy honors and esteem, as well as of high-ranking monks whose goal is to rescue humanity. However, honors and esteem cannot last; if because of them evil karma is created, it will be difficult to escape the ocean of Birth and Death. (10)

I ask you to ponder this: what can a Pure Land cultivator carry with him when death comes and he closes his eyes forever? It is, of course, the virtues generated by Buddha Recitation. This is no different from a boat that sails thanks to the currents of the river. Thus, the path of cultivation for all sentient beings should be to organize Pure Land retreats, or invite monks and nuns to provide guidance in Buddha Recitation, or publish and distribute Pure Land sutras and commentaries, or commission Buddha images for veneration and recitation of the Buddha's name. Such activities may be limited in scope but should be sustained and accompanied by a strong determination to be reborn in the Pure Land. This is a path of cultivation for everyone. What can be more honorable than to serve as the envoy of the King of the Dharma - the Buddha Himself!

Commentary. Although we may enjoy wealth and honors thanks to merits and virtues sown in previous lifetimes, all these are temporary. Once the last breath leaves the body, everything is left behind. Why become attached to these false, fleeting images? You should clearly realize this and endeavor to accumulate merits and virtues through Buddha Recitation. Strive with all your might to do so, just as you strive to acquire wealth in this life. Those lacking in wisdom take the false for the true, chasing forms and realms, honors and wealth - vain and external as these may be. Although you may enjoy a few pleasures, these are fleeting, lasting but a moment. Life is evanescent, the body is fast decaying. Only virtues and morality endure, true and free of external hustle and bustle, not subject to fleeting pleasures. The sage Confucius once said: "Eating leftover rice, drinking rainwater, with my arms as a head-rest, I still feel happy inside." Such happiness is the happiness of the wise. 

17) The Poor Should Also Recite the Buddha's Name

Alas! There are people who toil day in and day out, ordered around by others, wretched and miserable. If they do not seek to escape such a life, they will fare worse in future lifetimes.

Do realize that whether you are rich or poor, exalted or humble, young or old, male or female, you should face west early each morning and recite the Buddha's name with utmost sincerity and without interruption, without letting sundry thoughts intrude upon the utterances. Then dedicate all virtues thus accrued toward rebirth in the Pure Land. You will receive numerous benefits in this life and, upon leaving this world, naturally achieve rebirth in the Pure Land. Amitabha Buddha is truly a rescue ship for everyone in the ocean of suffering!

Commentary. No one in the world is so poor as to lack even body and mind. We should therefore use this body and mind that we already have to recite the Buddha's name. There is a story in the sutras about the sage Mahakatyayana rescuing a poor servant by requesting her to "sell" him her poverty by means of Buddha Recitation - and she succeeded in doing so. We should emulate this poor old woman and "sell off" our poverty. Why hang on to it and endure more suffering?

To suffer and be aware that you are suffering, while searching for a way out - this is the path of the sages. To suffer and be unaware of your suffering, and on top of that to mistake that suffering for happiness -- no words can do justice to your predicament! 

18) Pure Buddha Recitation

A wise man should not let himself be misled. He should recite the Buddha's name in a pure way so as to strengthen his wisdom.

You should know that if a wise person recites the Buddha's name, many others will follow his lead and those who have erred in their practice will find it easier to return to the Buddha's way. Why? It is because the reputation of a wise person can open the minds of lesser mortals. Moreover, through his wisdom, he can find ways to rescue them.

Commentary. The actions of a wise person can have a beneficial influence on those with lesser capacities or those lacking in wisdom -- as long as such actions are performed with good intentions. Therefore, a wise person should be worthy of that trust and not be led astray by deluded or vile actions based on greed or lust.

An influential person who cultivates Buddha Recitation will have a beneficial effect upon those around him. Thanks to his skills and intelligence, augmented by the confidence of those around him, he is able to accomplish meritorious deeds which can influence everyday human behavior and values. To perform a modest act while achieving major results is something we all desire. Nevertheless, many wise and intelligent people who have the opportunity to benefit humanity refuse to act, or if they act, do so in a perfunctory way. How regrettable! 

19) True and Earnest Buddha Recitation

To eschew wealth and fame, to avoid showing off one's capacities, but merely to practice sincerely - this is something very few can achieve.

The ancients taught that it is difficult to find a "dull and ignorant" Zen practitioner, even if we go out of our way. Yet, a practitioner of Buddha Recitation need only worry that he is not "dull and ignorant".

The two words "true and earnest" are a straight highway leading to the Pure Land. Why? It is because when Buddha Recitation is true and earnest, there are only the words "Amitabha Buddha", and not a single deluded thought.

Commentary. The practitioner who singlemindedly recites the Buddha's name, is not attached to any external realm, is unmoved by any disturbances and sees everything as not connected in any way to himself - such a person may appear outwardly as extremely naive, "dull and ignorant". However, he is precisely the one who is truly enlightened, truly pure. Such a person is not easy to find! 

Furthermore, according to Pure Land teaching: "without singleminded recitation, it is impossible to achieve rebirth in the Pure Land." With singlemindedness, myriad conditions are left behind and only the Buddha's name remains. At that time, the practitioner's mind and the Buddha Mind are in unison; the Western Pure Land is not separate from the practitioner. There is no need to probe deep or ponder far, for the Buddha's realm is in front of us. The Pure land path is truly unique! 

20) Reciting the Buddha's Name When Happy

Happiness derives either from our interaction with other human beings or from favorable events. Although the causes may be trivial, this kind of happiness is part of the human condition. You should realize, however, that such happiness is ephemeral -- it is false, not true. Use those moments of happiness to "return the light inward" and recite the Buddha's name. You should then avail yourself of the Buddha's light and within the context of those joyful events, abandon your negative thoughts to cultivate good deeds continuously for the rest of your life. You will then surely be reborn in the Pure Land, a great happiness indeed!

Commentary. During our lifetime, we experience few moments of happiness but many of suffering. Even when we are happy, that happiness is ephemeral, lasting but a moment and then giving way to the numerous sufferings which torment sentient beings. Therefore, what is enduring about that happiness, that should make us proud, grasping and clinging to it?

What should really make us happy is the pure joy of the Self-Mind, which is true and everlasting. The Pure Land of Amitabha awaits the pure in Mind. Rebirth in that realm is indeed the ultimate joy. 

21) Vow to Recite the Buddha's Name

The real aim of Buddha Recitation is rebirth in the Pure Land. However, the compassionate power of the Buddhas is unfathomable: if you recite their names, your wishes will be fulfilled. For this reason, the sutras teach that Buddha recitation can bring ten major benefits. [On the other hand], worshiping and bowing down before deities and repenting [before their altars], engaging in sundry practices, taking non-Buddhist vows, or foolishly believing in divination, fortune-telling and horoscopes - none of these activities can be compared to reciting Amitabha Buddha's name and seeking His assistance.

Some people might ask: what if we fail to obtain a response after reciting the Buddha's name?

Answer: you have not yet recited and are already worried about not obtaining a response. This doubt is the very cause that will bring the result of non-response. Cause and result cannot differ. Is this doubt not something you should fear?

Commentary. The Buddhas represent great mercy, great compassion, great wisdom, great virtues. They are honored as supreme teachers of gods and men along the Six Paths. Therefore, when in need of help, why not seek it from the Buddhas! It is strange indeed that many people are more in awe of demons and ghosts than of the Buddhas! Could it be because the Buddhas are compassionate while demons and ghosts are evil? Or is it because their minds are not pure but tormented by transgressions and evil, twisted actions? Thus, they disregard the true and fear the false. Practitioners should ponder the matter carefully, lest, though sons and daughters of the Buddhas, they unwittingly act as disciples of the demons! 

22) Recite the Buddha's Name to Overcome Animosities

All untoward circumstances and events in life are the result of adverse causes and conditions [from previous lives]. Do not, therefore, develop evil thoughts and create karmic debts - perpetuating the cycle of resentment and wrongdoing into the future. Adapt to causes and conditions and, more important, do not forget to recite the Buddha's name.

The Buddha is all wisdom, all light, all merit and virtue. He will respond to your call, and even if you meet with untoward circumstances, these will soon turn out to be favorable.

Commentary. "The knots of resentment and hatred should be severed, not retied." To avoid repaying one wrong with another is the way to put an end to all wrongs. The safest way is to recite the Buddha's name.

Ten thousand hardships, bitter and harsh

Are dissipated instantly with one recitation of the Buddha's name;

To recite is to sever resentment and hatred,

If the mind is pure, how can the infernal gates close behind us?

Recite the Buddha's name, spread compassion around;

Enemies and friends being equal, where can disaster be found? 

23) When Ashamed, Recite the Buddha's Name

In this life or in previous ones, once evil karma has matured, suffering follows in its wake. Each bit of suffering in this life is due to a bit of evil karma. You cannot blame fate for being uneven; you can only be ashamed for not having cultivated sooner. Each time you think of the Buddha, you should be so moved that every hair on your body stands on end and, overcome with emotion, you are completely drained ...Each utterance of the Buddha's name, each syllable, then comes from your liver, your marrow - this is the true state of Buddha Recitation.

Nowadays, when laymen or monks and nuns recite the Buddha's name, they do so with their lips, while their minds are scattered, or else they concentrate the mind only during recitation. When recitation is over, the mind is again clouded. Others engage in mundane conversation while reciting. (11) Thus, even if they recite all their life, they obtain no response. People who witness this may think that seeking rebirth in the Pure Land through Buddha Recitation is just an illusion, but this is assuredly not the Buddha's fault!

Commentary. Sentient beings and the Buddhas have the same pure Self-Nature, not two different ones. However, the Buddhas have attained Enlightenment and abandoned the false for the true. We, on the other hand, always take the false for the true, "abandoning Enlightenment to merge with the dusts," resigned to wandering aimlessly in the cycle of affliction and grief. There is no greater shame than this! We should therefore try our utmost to cultivate singlemindedly until death, seeking to escape Birth and death. Let us abandon mundane thoughts filled with affliction, so that we may be spared wallowing for many lifetimes in the river of delusion and the ocean of suffering! 

24) Recite the Buddha's Name in Earnest

In daily life, if you see anyone stuck in a situation that deserves compassion, but you do not respond, it is contrary to human morality. However, if you only develop intellectual compassion but fail to act, how can you merge with the compassionate nature of the Buddhas? Once compassion has developed, you must find a way to save others from suffering -- a way to help all sentient beings escape suffering once and for all. You should realize that the reason why Buddha Amitabha is honored with the title "Great Compassionate Being" is that He always rescues sentient beings. Since it is based on this compassion that you seek the Buddha's assistance to escape suffering, how can you fail to recite with the highest level of resolve?

Commentary. The purpose of Buddha Recitation is to transcend Birth and Death. However, Birth and Death is a heavy chain, extremely difficult to wrench free of, as our bad karma and afflictions are too deep-rooted. Moreover, transgressions and evil karma are accumulating continuously, day in and day out. If our power of recitation is weak and our thoughts are not utterly sincere and determined, we cannot escape Birth and Death ourselves, let alone help others. Therefore, we must be extremely earnest and sincere in reciting the Buddha's name, so as to be in unison with His Compassionate Mind - like a lost child who longs to be re-united with his mother. 

25) Buddha Recitation and Offerings

In everyday life, on the occasion of a seasonal festival or the festival of a Buddha or Bodhisattva, it is customary to make offerings, according to one's means, of incense, lights, flowers and fruits. However, these are merely material offerings -- not offerings of the Dharma. Dharma offerings relate to the mind and are on a much higher plane than any material offering.

In recent times, because of the popularity of non-Buddhist beliefs, [we can witness all kinds of deluded practices, such as making offerings of non-vegetarian foods on the Buddha's altar or conjuring up ghosts and spirits in search of health and riches]. Such practices are wasteful and deceptive.

Only Buddha Recitation can eliminate all ills and it costs nothing. Yet, few people bother to learn about it. I sincerely hope that the wise will not allow themselves to be misled.

Commentary. To make non-vegetarian offerings is to sacrifice the lives of other sentient beings in order to ameliorate one's own. It is utterly selfish and inhuman. Deities and saints cannot be swayed by offerings like officials receiving bribes! Providence is impartial; it does not favor anyone. If we perform good deeds we accrue good karma; if we perform evil deeds we accrue evil karma. That is all ...

Moreover, if the mind is righteous and the body pure, what need is there to worry? When we recite the Buddha's name, that name is taking center stage in our mind, which is then in unison with the Mind of the Buddhas, sharing the same pure wave-length. How can any demon or ghost dare to possess such a mind? Belief in superstitions and evil spirits not only opens us to ridicule, it can also cause a great deal of harm, by allowing others to take advantage of our beliefs and fears. I urge you to ponder the issue very carefully. 

26) Reciting the Buddha's Name to Repay your Filial Debts

The filial debt you owe to your parents is the greatest debt of all. How can it ever be repaid? To provide all their necessities and earn titles and honors to glorify their names are mundane ways. While these actions are meritorious, from the vantage point of Truth, they are not the ideal, perfect way (because they still fall within the cycle of suffering that is the human condition). There is only one perfect way - it is to recite the Buddha's name and counsel your parents to do likewise, dedicating all the merits and virtues toward rebirth in the Pure Land. You will thus sow a diamond seed, as in the future, both you and your parents will be liberated. Moreover, one utterance of the Buddha's name can eradicate the karma of countless transgressions and afflictions. Therefore, anyone who wishes to repay his profound debt to his parents cannot fail to learn about the Pure Land method.

Commentary. Providing for the everyday needs of our parents is merely fulfilling our filial obligations according to the ways of the world.

If our parents do not cultivate transcendental causes, they are bound to flounder in the Triple Realm, revolving endlessly in the cycle of Birth and Death. How can this be considered perfect devotion on our part? 

What, then, is the path of supreme devotion? It is the Pure Land 

method of reciting the Buddha's name, seeking rebirth in the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha at the end of this retribution body (lifetime). Thanks to the power of Amitabha Buddha's vows (Other-power), all evil karma, be it as heavy of a huge stone block, can be easily transported across the river of Birth and Death. (12) Thus, a small effort reaps great results. Why are we still undecided? 

27) Practicing Charity through Buddha Recitation

If you see someone suffering, you should first help him with the necessities of life and then comfort him and counsel him to recite the Buddha's name. To relieve suffering temporarily, charity is the urgent thing. However, to relieve the suffering of many lifetimes, the Pure Land method is more urgent still.

If you see a person or an animal in danger but cannot help, immediately recite the Buddha's name, dedicating all the merits and virtues to his soul. (13)Moreover, during a serene night, you might recite a sutra or the Buddha's name, wishing that all sentient beings may escape suffering and disaster. In time of war or epidemic, recite the Buddha's name throughout the night, wishing that all the wrongs and suffering of sentient beings may be eliminated.

While reciting the Buddha's name, you should visualize that each recitation is bringing benefits to all sentient beings - from the heavens above to the cosmic winds below. Such charitable practice is truly inconceivable. (14)


Commentary. We should first help others with the necessities of life to relieve their physical suffering and then counsel them to recite the Buddha's name to rescue their souls. In those instances where we cannot help, we should singlemindedly recite the Buddha's name, concentrating all our good thoughts on the sufferer, that he may escape his present condition and be reborn peacefully in an auspicious realm.

One utterance of the Buddha's name

Eliminates injustices and wrongs from time immemorial ... (15) 

28) Self-Nature Recitation, Self-Nature Listening

The mind begins to think, which moves the tongue; the tongue in turn moves, producing sound, and that sound returns to the Self-Mind. This is the method of "mind reciting, mind listening."

If the mind recites and listens, the eyes cannot see wrongly, the nose cannot smell wrongly, the body cannot move wrongly because the master(the mind) has been "kidnapped" by the words "Amitabha Buddha".

Commentary. To recite the Buddha's name is to recite the Buddha of the Self-Mind; the ears hearing the Buddha's name actually hear the Self-Mind. The sound comes from the Self-Mind and returns to the Self-Mind, turning around and around in a circle. Not even a bit of deluded thought remains, and as a result, all mundane dusts, all deluded realms disappear.

Recite the Buddha's name, recite the Mind,

The Mind recites the Buddha;

Meditate, Meditate on the Self-Nature,

The Self-Nature meditates. 

29) Recitation within Recitation

Once recitation of the Buddha's name is perfected, of the Six Dusts only the "dust" of hearing remains. All six faculties are entirely concentrated in the faculty of hearing. The body no longer feels any coming or going, the tongue no longer knows how to move, the mind how to discriminate, the nose how to breathe, the eyes how to open and close. The two supreme methods of cultivation, of the Bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara and Mahasthama, are but one; nothing is not round and perfect. This is because sense organ is sense object, sense object is sense organ, and both organ and object are consciousness. The Eighteen Elements are all gathered in one element. Although at the outset they do not penetrate one another, in time they will gradually do so.

Usually, a clean, quiet corner should be selected for Buddha Recitation, about fourteen to seventeen square feet in area. You should circumambulate once, moving clockwise, and then slowly recite the Buddha's name with your voice growing louder and louder. As you recite this way for three or more circumambulations, you will feel your mind and voice becoming clearer, filling the universe, encircling the Ten Directions, encompassing the whole Dharma Realm. This is the method of resting body, mind and realm in the sound of the Buddha's name, and it is to rest body and mind in the sound of the Buddha's name that you recite. This is the supreme realm, which erases the polluted mind full of afflictions, and which the practitioner should endeavor to reach.(This method needs no further clarification.) 

30) Recitation in the Light of the Self-Mind

If [all] sounds are the sound of the Self-Mind, then [all] lights are also the light of the Self-Mind. If the sound of the Self-Mind exists anywhere, the light of the Self-Mind also shines from that place. If you rest in the sound of the Self-Mind to recite the Buddha's name, you are resting in the light of the Self-Mind as you recite. This is also the supreme realm where the polluted, afflicted mind has been eliminated. The practitioner should strive to cultivate this method. 

31) Recitation in the Nature of the Self-Mind

As the sound of the Self-Mind surrounds you and the light of the Self-Mind shines upon you, the Mind-Nature naturally reveals itself. This True Mind is like a huge, round, bright mirror that nothing can obstruct. The Ten Directions, the Three Periods of Time, ourselves, the Buddhas and sentient beings, the cycle of suffering in the impure world, the lotus seat in the Pure Land - all are but images in the mirror. Thus, to recite aloud is to recite in the light, to recite in the mirror; it is neither the same nor different. This is the ultimate auspicious realm, completely free of the deluded mind. You should strive with all your might to attain it.

Commentary. The Mind-Nature is intrinsically ever pure (silent and still), but its manifestations are manifold (reflecting and shining). Once we realize that the totality of these manifestations are not separate from the unchanging Self-Nature, then Mind, Buddhas and sentient beings, intrinsically one, become empty, bright and unimpeded. Anyone who can practice Buddha Recitation to that level, must have exceptionally wholesome roots. The myriad phenomena are but images in the mirror, intrinsically non-existent, born and disappearing through causes and conditions. What influence can they have on the unchanging, unborn and undying nature of the True Mind? To internalize this truth is to escape the restrictive perimeters of space and time. 

32) Uninterrupted Recitation

Recite in the morning, recite in the evening, recite when you are at leisure, recite when you are busy, recite in clean places, recite in unclean places - there should not be a single thought which is not of the Buddha. Even if you have to entertain friends and serve guests every day and thus have to interrupt your recitation, only vocal recitation should be interrupted, not mental recitation. Practicing with such constancy, you can easily achieve samadhi. 

33) Recitation without Sundry Thoughts

The absence of sundry thoughts is "stopping". Stopping is the cause of samadhi. If you can put a stop to sundry (impure) thoughts, correct thoughts (samadhi) will naturally appear.

Sundry thoughts fall into three categories: good, bad and neutral. To eliminate all three is to eliminate sundry thoughts. (16) The mind requires stillness. With stillness, neither good nor bad thoughts arise. The mind requires clarity. With clarity, there is no "neutral" thought.

There is no recitation except recitation of the Buddha's name. Therefore, the mind is always still. In recitation, there is [only] Buddha, therefore, the mind is always bright and clear

34) Uninterrupted Recitation

Reciting the Buddha's name without interruption isvisualization, and visualization is the cause of wisdom. The previous utterance of the Buddha's name has gone, the next one has not come, the present utterance is not static. (17) Practice visualization in this manner -- clearly but without attachment, without attachment but clearly. Proceeding continuously in this way, you will arrive at the truth that "everything is made from Mind alone" -- Buddha is Mind, Mind is Buddha.

Commentary (to the three methods above). To recite the Buddha's name is to recite the Buddha of the Self-Mind. Therefore, whether the place of recitation is clean or dirty does not matter. Moreover, sentient beings and Buddhas share the same Self-Nature True Mind. That Self-Nature, that Buddha Nature, originally bright, has, as a result of delusion, been covered by afflictions and ignorance. We are so deluded and perverse that day in and day out we pursue worldly dusts and false realms, drawing further and further away from the True Nature, mistaking the false for the True. Once we are enlightened , we return to the light of the Self-Mind, but it is not easy, in a short time, to erase the dark afflictions which have tainted it for so long. Therefore, it is necessary to recite continuously (to recite the Buddha's name is to recite the Buddha of the Self-Mind). With Buddha thoughts succeeding one another at all times, sentient being thoughts cease to exist. Thus, even when we are extremely busy, only audible recitation is interrupted; how can the thoughts inside us be restrained? When the mind is completely occupied with Buddha thoughts, how can sundry thoughts arise any longer? Sundry thoughts having ceased to arise (the wind has stopped!), the Mind is no longer moved by anything. At that point, the mind is peacefully resting in samadhi (the water is calm). The myriad dharmas now appear - nothing at all is missing. With myriad dharmas manifesting themselves naturally, the Self-Mind shines in a sublime, unique way (wisdom). The cultivator who can practice Buddha Recitation to this level has effectively reached perfection. 

35) Zen is Buddha Recitation

Meditation based on a koan (18) is called koan meditation. Meditation in which the practitioner sits and stops the thought process is referred to as sitting meditation. Koan and sitting meditation are both Zen. Zen and Buddha are both Mind. Zen is the Zen of Buddha. Buddha is the Buddha in Zen. Buddha Recitation does not conflict with koan or sitting meditation. Moreover, the meditator can use the words "Amitabha Buddha" as a koan, reciting forward, reciting backward, reciting in one direction, reciting in another, upside down, turning around, without leaving his current thought. Even if it is not called Zen, Zen is still part of it.

The Zen practitioner, to succeed in his cultivation, must practice to the stage of "one thought in resonance with the Mind" (samadhi), and enter suddenly into the realm of Emptiness.

To recite the Buddha's name to the level of one-pointedness of mind - if this is not resonance (samadhi) what else can it be? To recite to the point where the mind is empty, is it not perpetual samadhi?

In alert, focused Buddha recitation there is samatha, vipassana, samadhi, wisdom - each recitation is perfect. Where else can Zen be found if not here? 

Commentary. Zen is Pure Land because both Zen and Pure Land aim at reaching one-pointedness of mind. Although two expedients are involved, the result is the same. However, Zen is ten times as difficult! 

The well-known commentary Returning Directly to the Source contains the following similes: "those who practice methods other than Pure Land are no different from ants climbing a high mountain or worms crawling up to the tip of a bamboo stalk. The Pure Land method of Buddha Recitation is a shortcut relying on the Buddha's power. It is like a boat sailing downstream with the wind in its sails or a worm digging its way out sideways [horizontal escape (19)] .There is no faster way." 

36) Precepts are Buddha

To keep the precepts is to rein in the body; to recite the Buddha's name is to rein in the mind. Keeping the precepts for an extended period of time rectifies the body; reciting the Buddha's name for an extended period of time leads to an empty mind. The nature of the precepts and the nature of recitation are not two different things. Constantly keeping the precepts prevents transgressions and mistakes; constantly reciting the Buddha's name enables the cultivator to overcome "near-death karma" (20) and transcend the Triple Realm. If your precept-keeping has reached a high level and you dedicate these virtues toward rebirth in the Pure Land, you are bound to achieve rebirth in the middle Lotus Grades. (21) If, on the other hand, you cannot do both, then try to recite the Buddha's name assiduously, as though you were extinguishing a fire burning on your head.

Commentary. Precept-keeping aims ultimately at keeping the Self-Mind pure. As the practitioner does not commit transgressions, he does not develop guilt and remorse. Buddha Recitation also aims at purifying the Self-Mind. Therefore, to keep the precepts is to recite the Buddha's name. However, Buddha Recitation is the more vital expedient when the cultivator is not yet keeping the precepts fully. It is thus urgent to recite the Buddha's name, so that once the mind is pure, the precepts naturally become pure as well. 

37) Sutras are Buddha

The entire Buddhist canon comes from the Mind; if the Mind is not Buddha, the teachings are just a waste. However, is there anyone's mind which is not Buddha? [If so], it is only because he does not stop and think.

Mahayana cultivators who have studied the Dharma must have read the Surangama Sutra, and among them there are some who belittle the Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta while praising the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. A tiny bit of attachment on this point is enough to plant a seed of Birth and Death. All their learning, farsighted views and profound understanding serve merely to strengthen the seeds of suffering; they are of no help at all toward the goal of escaping Birth and Death. I urge you to let go quickly, let go of everything and concentrate on Buddha Recitation, seeking rebirth in the Pure Land and the company of Amitabha Buddha.

Otherwise, if you cannot let go of these attachments immediately, then dedicate the virtues of studying and explaining the sutras toward rebirth in the Pure Land and fulfilment of the Four Great Vows. This will bring rebirth in the Pure Land. If, moreover, you can spread the Pure Land teachings, making others understand the benefits of Buddha Recitation, then even a wink or a thought will adorn the Pure Land. Thus, there is no doubt that your rebirth will be at the highest Lotus Grade! (22)

Commentary. In the Surangama Sutra, the Bodhisattva Mahasthama cultivates the samadhi of Buddha Recitation to achieve omniscience, while the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara cultivates the faculty of hearing and also achieves omniscience. Both Bodhisattvas achieve the same state of omniscience. However, when asked by Buddha Sakyamuni to choose among the different methods of cultivation, the Bodhisattva Manjusri selected the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara's practice as supreme. To misunderstand or become attached to this teaching, and think that Avalokitesvara is above Mahasthama, is contrary to the spirit of the sutra. It is because of this attachment that discrimination arises - the thought that this Bodhisattva is higher and that Bodhisattva is lower. This attachment stems [ultimately] from attachment to self, which has existed since time immemorial. Such attachment clouds the mind, making it easy for deluded views to develop. It thus creates suffering in the Self-Mind and this suffering lasts forever, time without end. How dangerous, indeed!

If you study, understand and lecture well but are limited to that study and understanding, with the mind divided, attached to language, words and phrases, how different are you from a silkworm stuck in its cocoon, ultimately dying within that very cocoon!

Is it not better to make every effort to adorn the Pure Land, or to follow the true and earnest approach of Buddha Recitation, rather than discourse pompously upon the pros or cons of this method or that? The latter can only entangle your pure thoughts and is of no help in the Great Matter of Birth and Death. 

Moreover, if you exercise all your understanding and abilities to propagate Pure Land, or to extol the merits of Buddha Recitation far and wide - using skillful means to urge people of all capacities to practice the Buddha Recitation Samadhi - then, truly, your rebirth in the Pure Land will not be that far off! 

38) Not Reciting is Reciting

As soon as any action is completed or a word is uttered, and there has not even been time to think of reciting the Buddha's name, yet the Buddha's name has already appeared - this is the state leading to samadhi. 

39) Reciting but not Reciting

This means reciting without growing weary or bored, while feeling better and better.

It means reciting the words "Amitabha Buddha" in a very clear, distinct way, without interruption and finding that these words have suddenly, temporarily, become frozen in your mind. It is to have no thoughts of the word "Amitabha" and no thoughts other than this word. This can provisionally be called attaining an auspicious realm, but not truly the state of Empty Mind. However, if you are diligent in reciting the Buddha's name, the realm always appears and in time you will achieve the state. If because of a thought of Empty Mind, you succumb to drowsiness and lethargy, you are lacking in wisdom.

You should realize that the more empty your mind is, the more wondrous and pure your recitation will be. When you use the self within the Buddha Mind to recite the Buddha in your own mind, neither Emptiness nor Non-Emptiness can be found. It is as though the sun or moon, while shining on the Jade Palace, were revolving around the Polar Mountain and shining on the whole world.

Indeed, what can be better than Wonderful Enlightenment becoming Perfect Enlightenment (Buddhahood)? (23)

Commentary. Once we have recited the Buddha's name to the point where it is effortless, we become free and unimpeded. There is no effort, no reflection --non-recitation yet nothing other than recitation, recitation yet nothing other than the state of non-recitation of the Self-Mind.

This is like a person learning to ride a bicycle. He appears to be using his head, his body, both arms and both legs, but the bicycle is still listing to one side or another. However, once he has mastered the technique, there is no need to grip the wheel or contort his body. With normal pedaling and no great exertion of effort, the bicycle runs straight, with none of the difficulties encountered earlier.

The ancients used to say: there is nothing in life so difficult that it cannot be done. The only problem is that we do not act, or if we do act, we fail to do so steadfastly over a period of time. That is why, in the end, nothing is well done. What greater cause for regret is there?  

40) Reciting the Buddha's Name in Isolation

When cultivating, a Bhiksu/Bhiksuni does not require the presence of fellow-cultivators. The more isolated his place of practice the better! He may recite in either a loud or a low voice, as he pleases, slowly and deliberately, or with utterances following one another in rapid succession. The only important condition is to achieve singlemindedness. He should tell himself "my body is alone but my mind is not, because the Mind of Amitabha Buddha and of all the Buddhas has never left me, even momentarily. The Buddhas know immediately what is going through my mind. If I give rise to even a single thought, the Buddhas know it. How can I be isolated?"

If you have questions about the Pure Land method, you should consult Pure Land sutras and treatises for clarification. There are many such sutras and commentaries, such as the Shorter Amitabha Sutra, the Longer Amitabha Sutra, the Meditation Sutra, Patriarch Chih-i's Treatise on Ten Doubts about the Pure Land, Master T'ien Ju's Doubts and Questions about Pure Land, etc. (24) I am merely covering a few easily understood Pure Land teachings in this book. There are many more interesting teachings to be found throughout the above-mentioned books. Furthermore, you should also try to study at the feet of masters who understand the Pure Land method in depth.

Commentary. Cultivators need to practice in a quiet, out-of-the-way area, in order to keep the mind focused. This is particularly the case in Pure Land Buddhism, because without one-pointedness of mind, it is impossible to achieve rebirth in the Pure Land. To achieve this one-pointedness of mind, we should, first of all, look for a quiet place to settle our mind and thoughts. ( When the surface of the lake is calm, the myriad stars will be reflected in it. There is no better way to keep the waters calm than to stop the wind.) When we have penetrated the still nature of the Self-Mind, we have become one with the Dharma Body of the Buddhas. At that time, not only does our own wisdom-light emerge, it is also merged with the countless wisdom-lights of the Buddhas of the Ten Directions. How can our light be called isolated?

The only thing to worry about is our delusions, lack of understanding and endless competing in the arena of the mundane and the vulgar. When the time comes to leave our bodies, we will, like a shadow, enter the Avici hells alone, isolated and orphaned! 

41) Organizing a Buddha Recitation Retreat

A Buddha Recitation retreat usually lasts seven days. If you are in retreat alone [you should see to it that all the basic necessities of life are available.] During the retreat, you should discourage others from moving about in the general area, so as to reserve the entire time for Buddha Recitation.

If there are five or six persons who wish to go into retreat together, you should plan to have a retreat attendant, as well as to establish strict rules and affix them to the door. All comings and goings, meals, offerings of flowers and fruits should be handled by the attendant, so that the participants can concentrate on reciting the Buddha's name throughout the seven-day period.

If you are still constrained by family obligations and do not know the pros and cons of serious cultivation, you should not rush into organizing retreats.

Commentary. Without going on retreat, we may be too occupied with everyday activities, guests and friends to find the necessary peace and quiet for Buddha Recitation. Therefore, we need to go on retreat as an expedient to get away from visitors and daily activities.

We should have the necessities of life at hand ( to avoid thinking about them ), or else seek the help of others, and peacefully recite the Buddha's name. With this method, the retreat lasts only seven days, but if we have the time and the means, we can organize additional retreats, without limit. Once we have decided to go into retreat, external events should not be allowed to take control and end the retreat half-way. To end a retreat hastily before the agreed number of days has elapsed is truly regrettable!

Be aware that the more eagerly we cultivate, the more we are tested by demons (karmic forces). Therefore, we cannot be wishy-washy, but must have a good understanding and plan well before acting. Otherwise, we may lose the battle and end in failure - setting ourselves up as objects of ridicule.  

42) Group Recitation

If four or five persons decide to meet as a group to engage in Buddha Recitation, they should establish the rules and agree on the order of seniority at the outset, before beginning to practice. 

From the beginning of each session, each time the wooden fish is struck, each time the Buddha's name is recited, one person should take the lead, while everyone else follows in a regular, even manner, without confusion - as otherwise, the minds of the participants could be disturbed.

Commentary. This method, unlike the previous one, does not require the participants to organize retreats, but merely to cultivate as time and conditions permit. The number of participants does not matter and there is no fixed number of days of practice.  

43) Recitation for the Purpose of Helping Others

The following activities are wholesome and conducive to accruing virtues: reciting the Buddha's name peacefully in one spot and dedicating the merits and virtues to others; joining in a retreat with other persons; propagating the Pure Land method; lending Pure Land texts to others; dispelling other people's doubts about this method; and counseling others to recite the Buddha's name steadfastly.

However, if you can practice supportive recitation (25) at the bedside of the dying, helping them to keep the Buddha's name continuously in mind so that they may be reborn in the Pure Land - you will be helping to realize the Dharma Body Wisdom-Life (Pure Mind) of others. The virtues of such action are on a higher level than all other activities. 

44) Buddha Recitation in Time of Calamity

If you remember to practice Buddha Recitation in time of calamity, you will receive a wonderful response. Take a country suffering invasion or a village decimated by a plague. In both places, Buddha Recitation should be practiced steadfastly. If one person recites, one person is at peace; if a hundred persons recite, a hundred are at peace. It is not that the Buddha is being partial, but rather that he always appears in the equal, non-discriminating light ... the light of the Buddha coming to protect us, the Dharma-protecting deities rescuing us - we will naturally escape danger and calamity. Do not doubt this.

Commentary. Some people may ask: how can reciting the Buddha's name eliminate calamities? They ask because they are not earnest or are doubtful about obtaining a response. These very doubts show why they do not obtain favorable results. You should realize that when we think only of Buddha Recitation and nothing else, our thoughts transcend body and mind. If such pure thoughts are stretched out [over hours and days...], what suffering can affect us? There is a great deal of significance to the saying:

A good response is due to the self;

Non-response is also due to the self.

If one person, then many persons begin to recite the Buddha's name, they are abandoning evil thoughts for good thoughts. If these good thoughts follow one after another without end, what disaster cannot be eradicated, what suffering cannot be dispelled?

Furthermore, the sutras record ten specific benefits of reciting the Buddha's name ... I urge practitioners to strengthen their faith and redouble their efforts. 

45) Buddha Recitation in Dreams

If you have unshakeable vows and engage in deep, pure cultivation, holding fast to the Buddha's name in the daytime, holding fast to it at night, then you will naturally recite the Buddha's name even in your dreams. This presages that you will soon achieve the goal of rebirth in the Pure Land. Therefore, you should continue to recite evenly, redouble your efforts, never scaling them down, never allowing your mind to become scattered.

Commentary. To recite the Buddha's name in the above manner is to have reached a rather high stage. Some persons can recite at night but not in the daytime, or when awake but not when asleep. Their recitation is subject to interruption because it has not yet become second nature. You should strive to keep the Buddha's name constantly in mind, whether awake or dreaming. To achieve this, train yourself to recite the Buddha's name in bed until falling asleep. Moreover, before climbing into bed, you should awaken the mind of recitation. Tell yourself that there is no better way to escape Birth and Death than constant recitation of the Buddha's name, when awake or asleep. If each day you remind yourself of this, you will grow accustomed to recitation and naturally succeed.

As an aside, if you wish to get up in the morning at a specific time, you should adopt the following method. Before retiring, tell yourself aloud: I should awake at five o'clock (or four o'clock, as you wish). If you repeat this to yourself two or three times, you will awaken in the morning at the desired time. One point to remember, though: the first few days you may not wake up at the right time, because your mind is not yet tamed. However, as time goes by, you will be closer and closer to the appointed time until one day you begin to awaken precisely at the desired hour - every day. This is a question of habit and there is nothing strange about it. 

46) Buddha Recitation in Times of Illness

A serious illness is a reminder of death. Death is the important link between sages and ordinary men, the pure and the impure. [In the event of terminal illness] you should develop thoughts of death (to avoid fearing it) and be diligent in reciting the Buddha's name, awaiting death with determination. When the time comes, the light of Amitabha Buddha will appear to welcome and escort you, thus fulfilling your vow of rebirth in the Pure Land. If you stop reciting the Buddha's name when you are ill, all your feelings of attachment, fear and affliction will create a turmoil in your mind, while all manner of sundry thoughts will arise. How then can you escape the path of Birth and Death?

Once, long ago, there was a monk who, afflicted with a serious illness, groaned loudly "help, help!" He then realized that a cultivator should remember to practice, and that to groan was wrong. Immediately, he began to recite the Buddha's name. However, his suffering did not diminish. Therefore, each time he groaned "help, help" he would follow the groan with the Buddha's name, day and night without fail. Upon recovering, he told everyone: "when I was ill, each time I groaned, I followed it with the Buddha's name. Now that I am well, the words 'Amitabha Buddha' remain while the 'Help, help' has disappeared and is nowhere to be found. How amazing!" This is an instance of being steadfast in the face of illness.

Commentary. No one in the world can avoid death. However, there are some people who are so afraid of death that they lose all self-respect or are so eager to live that they ignore death. What a pity!

Even if we fear death, we cannot escape it. Therefore, fear is superfluous.... Even when a relative, a very close one, dies, some persons do not dare to approach the corpse, let alone uncover the face and look at it. We should realize that death is ready for us at all times. Let us not fear it, but rather endeavor to ensure ourselves a [future] life where there will never be death: the path of liberation. Thus, we should redouble our efforts to recite the Buddha's name and not fear death. The death of this present body is but a temporary change of body. Countless impermanent bodies will succeed one another in the future - if we have not achieved liberation. 

47) Buddha recitation at the Time of Death

At the time of death, make the effort to remember the words "Amitabha Buddha", never letting them slip away from your mind. If you can recite aloud, by all means do so. If not, then recite softly. If you are too weak to recite at all, think of the words "Amitabha Buddha", engraving them in the depths of your mind - and never forget them.

Those who attend the dying should counsel them, continuously urging them to remember the Buddha, to recite the Buddha's name.

You should realize that because of scattered, deluded thoughts at the time of death, you have been wallowing in the Triple Realm throughout many lifetimes, many eons. Why? It is because Birth and Death are governed by your last thought at the time of death. If that single thought is focused on the Buddha, your body may be dead but your mind, being undisturbed, will immediately follow that single thought toward rebirth in the Pure Land. (26) Therefore, remember to recite the Buddha's name, always, without fail!

Commentary. The Pure land practitioner on the verge of death should have the following thoughts: "The last moment before death is of utmost importance for a Pure Land cultivator. If I do not guard it carefully and am not skillful, I will not only waste the efforts of an entire lifetime, I will be burdened by the sufferings of the cycle of Birth and Death, with no hope of escape. This is not to mention that this body came into being as a result of karmic consciousness, of the convergence of my father's seed and my mother's egg, and that it is subject to decay and death. Where there is form, there is decay, where there is life, there is death - nothing can last forever.

"The world I live in comes from filthy, deluded karma and is hardly a pure and peaceful realm meriting attachment. Today I singlemindedly recite the Buddha's name, vowing to be reborn in the Pure Land at the time of death. This is no different from throwing away a dirty old shirt and putting on a clean one - what can possibly be better?"

If you can reflect upon the above and plan in advance, then at the time of death, you will be free of attachment to the body and the world around you. With pure thoughts and one-pointedness of mind, you will be reborn instantly in the Pure Land - even ten thousand horses cannot drag you back! 

48) Vows, Repentance and Buddha Recitation

Alas! There are countless people who are unaware of Buddha Recitation. There are those who think Buddha recitation is akin to superstition and refuse to recite. There are monks and nuns who recite the Buddha's name as a matter of routine without knowing the true reason why. There are persons with "deluded wisdom" who believe in the Buddha yet refuse to recite. There are ignorant persons who do not know about the Buddha and therefore do not recite. These are but a few examples. In addition, there are ordinary people who, upon learning about cause and effect, recite the Buddha's name. However, they do so with the expectation of receiving merits and blessings in future lifetimes. Thus, they, too, cannot escape the seeds of Birth and Death.

It is truly difficult to find anyone who recites the Buddha's name for the sake of transcending Birth and Death - perhaps one or two out of a hundred! We should realize that to recite the Buddha's name is to be in unison with the compassionate Mind of the Buddha - it is to make the great vow of rescuing all sentient beings [Bodhi Mind]. (27)

"All offenses and past wrongs done to others, I now repent; all virtues and good roots, large and small, I now dedicate to rebirth in the Pure Land."

This is the principal cause (motive) of Buddha Recitation.

Commentary. Whatever we do should have a goal that leads naturally to a result. Buddha Recitation for the sake of transcending Birth and Death and achieving rebirth in the Pure Land - the goal and the result - is truly sublime, yet practical. This is something that cannot be derided.

If we realize this point, our efforts are not wasted. If we truly recite the Buddha's name seeking escape from Birth and Death, there is no point in seeking mundane merits and blessings. How can the myriad phenomena of this world, fleeting, impermanent as they are, be the place where we entrust our true selves, inherently permanent and everlasting? It is only because of evil karma, heavy obstructions and limited wisdom that we must resign ourselves to an unfortunate destiny.

Therefore, once we clearly understand this and decide to recite the Buddha's name, we should strive to repent in all sincerity, so that our mind may be serene and pure, free of afflictions and illusions. Only then can we hope to realize our vow of rebirth in the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha for the ultimate benefit of all sentient beings. (28)