by Van Hien Study Group

1.Sundry good/bad actions: In the Meditation Sutra, good actions are divided into pure and sundry actions. Sundry good actions are those that require effort and are carried out with an expectation of benefit, merits or virtues. Pure actions are those which are performed in order to transcend Birth and Death, namely, meditation, visualization or Buddha Recitation. Sundry bad actions are actions influenced by impure thoughts. (Master Suddhisukha)

Sundry thoughts: deluded, impure thoughts.

2. Parable: In a time long past, Maitreya was in his incarnation as a laughing, big-bellied monk with a sack perpetually on his back. He used to travel about the countryside seeking alms and sharing them with whomever happened to be nearby. He would customarily sit under a tree, surrounded by young children, to whom he would tell stories to illustrate Buddhist teachings. Seeing this, an elder monk of the time became annoyed at what he perceived as untoward conduct on the part of Maitreya. One day, he cornered Maitreya and tried to test him with the following question: "Old monk, pray tell me, just what do you think is the essence of the Buddha's teachings?" Maitreya stopped for a moment, looked him in the eye, and just let his sack fall to the ground. As the puzzled monk wondered what to make of this singular action, Maitreya bent down, picked up his sack and walked away. Dropping the sack, "letting go", forgive and forget -- that is the teaching of Maitreya, the Buddha of the future.

3. See the following verse found in the Avatamsaka Sutra, Ch. 20. It expresses one of the key teachings of Mahayana Buddhism:

"If people want to really know/ All Buddhas of all time,/ They should contemplate the nature of the cosmos:/ All is but mental construction (i.e., Everything is made from Mind alone.)"

(T. Cleary, tr., The Flower Ornament Sutra/Avatamsaka Sutra, Vol I, p.452)

Borrowing and repaying:

In Buddhism, everything is governed by the law of Cause and Effect. Life is an unending cycle of transgression and retribution, borrowing and repaying.


4. Not to kill, steal, engage in sexual misconduct or false speech are the four cardinal precepts or injunctions taught by the Buddhas. Not only must you not break any of these precepts through words, you must also refrain from all other unwholesome speech. (Master Suddhisukha)

5. Brahma Net Sutra: This is a sutra of major significance in Mahayana Buddhism. In addition to containing ten major Mahayana precepts, the sutra also contains forty-eight less important injunctions. These 58 major and minor precepts constitute the Bodhisattva Precepts, taken by most Mahayana monks and nuns and certain advanced lay practitioners. It is believed that the current version of the Brahma Net Sutra is only a fraction of the original sutra, most of the rest having been lost. An English version of this sutra is available from the Sutra Translation Committee (Bronx, NY) and the Buddha Educational Foundation (Taiwan).

6. Pure karma of the body: to refrain from killing, stealing and sexual misconduct. Moreover, all actions and gestures should be upright, undefiled, unsoiled by worldly dusts. (Master Suddhisukha)

7. This is because Diamond Recitation, while silent, still involves moving the lips.

8. The expression "Self-Nature Amitabha, Mind-Only Pure Land" represents the quintessence of Pure Land/Buddha Recitation Practice. At the noumenon level (i.e., at the level of principle), Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light and Infinite Life, is our Self-Nature, always bright and everlasting - thus the expression Self-Nature Amitabha. Rebirth in the Pure Land is rebirth in our mind, which is intrinsically pure, like the Pure Land - thus the expression Mind-Only Pure Land.

9. Three Bodies of the Buddha: " A concept adopted in Mahayana to organize different concepts of the Buddha appearing in the sutras." (A Dictionary of Buddhist Terms and Concepts, p. 448)

"The three bodies are:

1. Dharmakaya:the Dharma-body, or the 'body of reality', which is formless, unchanging, transcendental, and inconceivable. Synonymous with suchness, or emptiness.

2. Sambhogakaya: the 'body of enjoyment', 'the bliss or reward body', the celestial body of the Buddha. Personification of eternal perfection in its ultimate sense. It 'resides in the Pure Land and never manifests itself in the mundane world, but only in the celestial spheres, accompanied by enlightened Bodhisattvas.'

3. Nirmanakaya: the 'manifested or incarnated body' of the Buddha. In order to benefit certain sentient beings, a Buddha incarnates himself into an appropriate visible body, such as that of Sakyamuni Buddha ..." (G.C.C. Chang). ,

10. Third lifetime: a general Buddhist Teaching which can be summarized as follows: In the first lifetime, the practitioner engages in mundane good deeds which bring ephemeral worldly blessings (wealth, power, authority, etc.) in the second lifetime. Since power tends to corrupt, he is then likely to create evil karma, resulting in retribution in the third lifetime.

Thus good deeds in the first lifetime are potential 'enemies' of the third lifetime. 

To ensure that mundane good deeds do not become 'enemies,' the practitioner should dedicate all merits to a transcendental goal, i.e., to become Bodhisattvas or Buddhas or, in Pure Land teachings to achieve rebirth in Amitabha's Pure Land -- a Buddha-land beyond Birth and Death. 

In the mundane context, these three lifetimes can be conceived of as three generations. Thus, the patriarch of a prominent family, through work and luck, amasses great power, fortune and influence (first lifetime). His children are then able to enjoy a leisurely, and, too often, dissipated life (second lifetime). By the generation of the grandchildren, the family's fortune and good reputation have all but disappeared (third lifetime).

11. For example, a practitioner may have a telephone next to him while he is reciting the Buddha's name. The phone rings and he answers it, while continuing to strike the wooden fish! This indicates a lack of earnestness.

12. The Questions of King Milinda Sutra contains the following parable: "A minute grain of sand, dropped on the surface of the water, will sink immediately. On the other hand, a block of stone, however large and heavy, can easily be moved from place to place by boat. The same is true of the Pure Land practitioner. However light his karma may be, if he is not rescued by Amitabha Buddha, he must revolve in the cycle of Birth and Death. With the help of Amitabha Buddha, his karma, however heavy, will not prevent his rebirth in the Pure Land."

13. This teaching is reflected in the Brahma Net Sutra (note 5):

"Now, if you wish to save a certain being but it's beyond your capacity, then you should singlemindedly recite the Buddha's name. For example, you may see some pigs or sheep that are about to be slaughtered, and you can't liberate them because you aren't able to buy them all. At this time you should singlemindedly recite the Buddha's name so those creatures can hear it. You can speak Dharma also. You can say to them, 'All of you living beings should bring forth the Bodhi resolve [Bodhi Mind].' This is creating causes and conditions for rescuing their wisdom-light. Although you are not saving their physical bodies, you are rescuing their wisdom-light." (Master Hui Seng)

14. According to Buddhist cosmology, our earth is suspended in space as a result of the unceasing movement of cosmic winds. This section illustrates the basic teaching of Pure Land and all other Mahayana schools: the purpose of cultivation is to rescue all sentient beings, including the practitioner himself (Bodhi Mind). See in this connection, Brahma Net Sutra, Secondary Precepts 20 and 45.

15. This seemingly exaggerated statement is easily understood in the light of the Buddha's teachings. Injustices, like all karma, good and bad, have their source in the mind. One utterance of the Buddha's name while in samadhi can change that mind and therefore eliminate, or at least mitigate, all the wrongs from time immemorial.

To take a simple example from everyday life, suppose a person driving home from work were cut off and almost hit by another vehicle. Incensed, he might chase after the other car and at a stop light, start to give the driver a piece of his mind. However, should he discover that the driver's wife was badly injured and about to undergo an operation, would his anger not change into understanding and forgiveness? See also main text, section 44.

16. See note 1.

17. As soon as we produce the "present" utterance, that utterance is already a thing of the past! Nothing remains still.

18. Koan:"Literally, Koan means a public case... However, it now refers to the statements, including answers, made by Zen masters. These statements are used as subjects for meditation by novices in Zen monasteries. Koan are also used as a test of whether the disciple has really [achieved an Awakening]. Helped by koan study, students of Zen may open their minds to the truth. By this method they may attain the same inner experience as the Zen masters. It is said that there are one thousand seven hundred such koans on record. The term wato [hua-t'ou or topic] is also used in this sense." ( Japanese-English Buddhist Dictionary)

"A word or phrase of non-sensical language which cannot be 'solved' by the intellect but which holds a person's attention while a higher faculty takes over. Used as an exercise for breaking the limitations of thought and developing intuition, thereby allowing one to attain a flash of awareness beyond duality (Kensho.), and later Satori." (Christmas Humphrey, A Popular Dictionary of Buddhism)

19. "Horizontal" and "vertical" are figures of speech, which can readily be understood through the following example. Suppose we have a worm, born inside a stalk of a bamboo. To escape, it can take the hard way and crawl vertically all the way to the top of the stalk. Alternatively, it can poke a hole near its current location and escape horizontally into the big, wide world. The horizontal escape, for sentient beings, is to seek rebirth in the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha.

20. Near-death karma:According to Buddhist teachings, at the time of death people are assailed by all kinds of afflictions, such as love, hate, regret, which they have been unable to let go of during their lifetimes. See also Notes 25 and 26.

21. The levels of rebirth in the Western Pure Land as described in theMeditation Sutra, a key Pure Land text. According to this sutra, there are nine grades, divided into three sets of three grades each. The moremerits and virtues the practitioner accumulates, the higher the grade. These grades are in fact representative of an infinite number of levels corresponding to the infinite levels of karma of those reborn in the Pure Land.

22. Four Great Vows:These are the common vows of all Mahayana practitioners, be they lay or monastic, which are recited at the end of each Meditation/ Recitation session. The Four Great Vows, which represent the Bodhi Mind, are: "Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them all./ Afflictions are inexhaustible; I vow to end them all./ Schools and traditions are manifold, I vow to study them all./ The Buddha-way is supreme; I vow to complete it." (Ross, p.48)

Belittling Mashasthama and praising Avalokitesvara : the teachings of the Buddha are audience-specific. Thus, to some, Avalokitesvara's teaching on the faculty of hearing is supreme, while to others, Mahasthamaprapta's on Buddha Recitation is the highest. This is why the Buddha praises all sutras as supreme and many sutras are called "king of the sutras" - "king" for its target audience.

23. Wonderful Enlightenment: the stage of cultivation immediately preceding Perfect Enlightenment, or Buddhahood.

Polar Mountain: The mythological mountain at the center of the universe.

24. All of these texts, along with others on Pure Land, have been translated into English. See the list of publications of the Sutra Translation Committee at the front of this book or contact the Buddha Education Foundation in Taiwan (

25. Supportive recitation: recitation performed by one or more Pure Land practitioners alongside a dying person, to assist him in achieving rebirth in the Pure Land. This is important for Pure Land practitioners as at the time of death, one is like a turtle being skinned alive. Filled with pain and fear, without the support of like-minded practitioners, one is likely to forget about Buddha Recitation and Pure Land rebirth. See also Note 20.

26. This is comparable to driving west from New York to Los Angeles, and then in a split second, taking the wrong fork on the highway, winding up south at the Mexican border. To make the right decision at the fork requires study of the relevant maps (previous cultivation). Alternatively, the driver can put his trust in a guide who knows the way (a good spiritual advisor). The crucial point here is to have the right advisor at the right moment. In this scenario, one second late is too late.

27. Bodhi Mind: Skt/Bodhicitta.The spirit of Enlightenment, the aspiration to achieve it, the Mind set on Enlightenment. It involves two parallel aspects; i) the determination to achieve Buddhahood and ii) the aspiration to rescue all beings.

The ultimate goal of all Mahayana practice is to achieve Enlightenment and transcend the cycle of Birth and Death -- that is, to attain Buddhahood. In the Mahayana tradition, the precondition for Buddhahood is the Bodhi Mind (bodhicitta), the aspiration to achieve full and complete Enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, oneself included.

28. This is a crucial teaching of Pure Land Buddhism.As Vasabandhu, the Patriarch of the Mind-Only School wrote in his well-knownTreatise on Rebirth:

"To develop the Bodhi Mind is precisely to seek Buddhahood; to seek Buddhahood is to develop the mind of rescuing sentient beings; and the mind of rescuing sentient beings is none other than the mind that gathers in all beings and helps them to achieve rebirth in the Pure Land." (Seeker's Glossary of Buddhism, 2nd ed., p. 64)