Chapter 3 - On Reciting The Name Of The Buddha

1. We all know that everyone suffers from vexations, though not necessary know that, as long as vexations last, we will remain in the cycle of birth and death. Therefore, we ought to seize the opportunity of this short human rebirth to concentrate on reciting the name of the Buddha and practice diligently to eradicate all vexations. Otherwise, we will remain in samsara and perpetually wander among the six divisions of rebirth.

2. Whatever circumstances you encounter, always remember to recite "Amitabha Buddha"; whenever you wish to steer clear of conflict, recite the name as well. In short, recite the Buddha's name whenever you have a moment to yourself, even if you should fall asleep amidst recitation. This practice will help you transcend the three realms of existence (the realms of sensual desire, of form and formlessness) and be reborn in the Pure Land. Therefore, when disturbances arise during practice, pretend not to see or hear them. Do not be distracted by the six sense objects, nor be swayed by circumstances. Just continue reciting "Amitabha Buddha".

3. Reciting the name of the Buddha with an undivided mind will lead to the realization of the essence of your own mind.

4. Many who do not understand the significance of reciting the name of the Buddha suppose the only attainment possible through this practice is a long life. However, if instead of practicing to escape samsara, you only create more negative karma by killing and other misconduct, what is the use of a long life? You still remain in the cycle of rebirths, wandering among the six divisions of sentient existence! The matter of escaping the cycle of birth and death is so crucial, yet life is so impermanent. If you truly comprehend the rationale of why we should escape the cycle of birth and death, you will, without hesitation, seize the opportunity of this human rebirth to practice reciting the name of Amitabha Buddha so that you can be reborn in the Pure Land.

5. Reciting the name of Amitabha Buddha is truly a pure and proper path, a path that will lead to the Pure Land. When we recite "Amitabha Buddha" in unison, all with an undivided mind, we can arrive at the Pure Land. There is no need to purchase tickets, as the dharmic vehicle to the Pure Land is formless and colorless.

6. Life is so impermanent; it can easily end in a breath. Therefore, we should seize every moment to practice diligently. Don't waste more time; keep on reciting the name of the Buddha. This is the most important thing for us here and now!

7. Keep on reciting the name of the Buddha, whether we are moving, staying, sitting, or sleeping! If we observe closely, we will find that most of the time, instead of concentrating on the name of Amitabha Buddha, our minds are easily distracted by external environments and wandering all over the places. If we cannot restrain our minds and allow them to be swayed by circumstances, there is no way we can ever escape samsara.

8. You can practice Zen in all your daily activities, be it walking, staying, sitting, or sleeping, not just in "sitting" meditation. If you constantly maintain the serenity and impartiality of your mind, you are practicing Zen. To be more specific, Zen means an undivided mind.

9. It is by no means easy to practice reciting the name of the Buddha. You have to relinquish all worldly concerns and recite with a pure and undivided mind so as to be in accord with the Buddha. Recite "Namah Amitabha Buddha" clearly and listen attentively without any doubt, all your scattered thoughts will naturally be expelled. You can then practice with an undivided mind free of perplexity.

10. If you have faith in my teaching, remember to recite the Buddha's name constantly whether you are walking, staying, sitting, or sleeping. Hold on to it even in your dreams. You can thereby be free of greed and worldly desires and your mind will not be perturbed. When you reach this stage, the Pure Land will naturally come forth before you. Do not take this matter lightly! It pertains to whether you can escape the cycle of birth and death.

11. The Larva of Chilo simplex (a kind of moth) cannot have offspring. They pick other bugs, put them in the soil, and speak to them incessantly: "Be like me! Be like me!" When the bugs come out of the soil, they grow to be like Chilo simplex. We should follow this example in our practice: shun from myriad temptations, just recite "Amitabha Buddha, Amitabha Buddha" with an undivided mind. After continuous practice, the recitation will become your second nature and you will ultimately attain Buddhahood.

12. When you are at home, practice prostration and recite the Buddha's name whenever possible. Don't waste your time gossiping or chattering! Then you can hope to be liberated from samsara and be reborn in the Pure Land.

13. Do not be perturbed by erroneous and illusive thoughts; just ignore them when they emerge. If you keep on reciting "Amitabha Buddha", such thoughts will gradually diminish.

14. Try to comprehend and experience the essence of the Dharma through each and every move you take so that evil ideas will have no chance to come forth. Otherwise, your life will be wasted. When not guided by right mindfulness, you may be overwhelmed by illusive and erroneous thoughts even though not pronouncing them, and remain clinging to, hence being vexed by, your biased judgments of worldly affairs. Continue living like this and you will have no chance of escaping samsara. The most important thing in your life, therefore, is to foster right mindfulness and practices the supreme Dharma that would set you free of all the trammels of life.

15. Smile when things are going well, the same when times are bad, for "good" or "bad" are nothing but arbitrary distinctions made by the mind, no need to differentiate or discriminate. When feeling happy, keep pondering "who is the one that is happy?" and when vexed, asking "who is the one that is full of defilement?" You should know that vexations and illusive ideas are also part of your mind, your "perturbed" mind. Pay no attention, though, when they emerge, just keep on reciting "Amitabha Buddha" clearly and distinctly. Continue this practice long enough, the illusive thoughts will naturally diminish. The instant the mind becomes pure and undivided, it is the Buddha-mind.

16. Don't think too much; just work, eat, and recite the name of the Buddha! Live only for today and let tomorrow be tomorrow. Let go of all worries and anxieties. Such is an indication of firm resolution, and such is practice.

17. "The nature of Dharma is emptiness. It has no place of origin nor destination." Thus, when you are vexed or angry, do not insist on locating the source of your vexation or anger. If you do, you will neither be happy nor be able to concentrate on practice, let alone making any progress! You have to relinquish all concerns and let go of all fetters. The most important thing is to keep "Amitabha Buddha" in your mind!

18. Reciting the name of the Buddha requires uninterrupted long-term practice, like the water of small streams keep running into the sea. No matter how many times you recite per day, you have to do it everyday and with an undivided mind. This is the only way for your recitation to stream into the sea of the great vows of Amitabha Buddha (i.e. be in accord with the vows) and you can thereby hope to be reborn in the Pure Land. Consequently, anyone who is willing to recite the name of the Buddha is half way toward attaining Buddhahood.

19. It is by no means easy to practice reciting the name of the Buddha because the recitation has to be done with an undivided mind and each word pronounced distinctly. Without the guidance of right mindfulness, your mind may become scattered and all sorts of unruly ideas may spring up. Under such circumstances, your recitation can easily become a mindless utterance that can never be in accord with the great vows of Amitabha Buddha. Indeed, recitation with an undivided mind requires a strong resolve. Otherwise, how can anyone expect to practice well when his/her mind is overwhelmed by illusive and erroneous thoughts?

20. There will be immense disturbances and obstacles to our minds while practicing recitation, mostly caused by incessant illusive thoughts. Since our minds are basically unstable and can easily be swayed by our thoughts, it is difficult to recite the name of the Buddha, even just once, with an undivided mind.

21. We all have accumulated immeasurable bad seeds in the eons. Without diligent practice, we will only increase our karmic obstructions and live this life in vain. Once losing human rebirth, we might not be able to regain such a good opportunity for practice for eons. In that case, when can we hope to escape the cycle of birth and death? Knowing the consequences, it will be wise for us to forgo all worldly attachments at once and practice diligently. Only when we realize that our physical body is nothing but a temporary and illusive shell case, and that we all have a Buddha-nature that can neither be born nor extinguished, will we be able to attain eternal liberation.

22. All of us are born with negative karma accumulated in past lives; that is why we remain in this cycle of rebirths. So, if those who have poor health realize that their illnesses are largely due to their karmic obstructions, they should avoid killing and recite the Buddha's name more often. Such practice will gradually eradicate their karmic obstructions.

23. If you find yourself overwhelmed by incessant erroneous and illusive thoughts, you should keep yourself busy so that your ideas will have an anchor. Otherwise, with thoughts running wild, you cannot practice reciting the name of the Buddha. But if you practice recitation while working, you will gradually forget that you are working hard. Besides, when you concentrate both on your tasks and on recitation, you will stop making distinctions about your environment, and your mind will naturally be free of discrimination.

24. For your daily practice, you should recite the name of the Buddha, dutifully carry out your monastic tasks, and constantly think of working for the benefit of others. This is the dual practice toward gaining merit and wisdom that will lead directly to liberation from the cycle of birth and death. On the other hand, if you only think of your own interests and never about others, you are neither kind nor compassionate; your practice won't go very far and you are sure to remain in samsara.

25. Practice reciting the name of the Buddha requires the trinity of faith, will, and action. Follow the recitation closely -- whether pronouncing it or reciting in silence -- you should be able to hear every word distinctly. If you practice to the extent that you hear nothing but the name of the Buddha, that you neither distinguish nor be distracted by any other sound, you would have attained the stage of "an undivided mind free of perplexity".

26. Our tendency to have erroneous and illusive thoughts is rooted deeply. That is why we tend to feel dizzy or are easily distracted by illusive thoughts when we recite the name of the Buddha. Therefore, we have to keep reminding ourselves to restrain our minds while practicing recitation.

27. Some people take recitation lightly, thinking it easy to practice. But if you ask them to try it, they might soon be vexed after starting to recite the name of the Buddha, or they might feel oppressed by tons of rocks upon hearing the sound of recitation. Such negative reactions indicate that they did not plant good seeds in their previous lives and that their karmic obstructions are so enormous that they are unable to benefit from recitation. Therefore, do not look down upon the discipline of reciting the name of the Buddha.

28. Nowadays, many people claim to be Buddhists but in fact do not have right mindfulness. They make offerings to supernatural local deities praying for blessings and take it to be the practice of Buddhism. Or, they prostrate themselves in front of Buddha statues because they want something in return. They are chasing after wealth and fame, and are deluded by such illusive pursuits day in and day out. Without the guidance of right views, it will not be easy for such people to escape the cycle of birth and death.

29. We should make vows as grand as that of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, i.e. not to attain Buddhahood until all beings are delivered. While treading the Bodhisattva-path, this grand vow is a vow to attain Buddhahood. If, on the other hand, we think only of ourselves, then we are neither kind nor compassionate; our practice will not go very far and our attachment to the form of "self" will remain. Clinging to the sense of self will only plant evil seeds such as vexation, attachment, discrimination, jealousy, greed, anger, and ignorance, etc., that will keep us in the cycle of birth and death. Hence, practice should always be motivated by altruism. And while working for the benefit of others, we will also benefit ourselves. Help others whenever and wherever possible and lead their minds to dwell on the Dharma. Whatever we do, if we are kind and compassionate to all beings while providing them with expedient guidance for practice, we are treading the Bodhisattva-path.

30. Why are we besieged in the endless cycle of rebirths? It is because we are heavily defiled and attached to sensual attractions, and are vexed by incessant cravings for wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep. Our unremitting pursuit of physical satisfaction, therefore, creates immeasurable negative karma, which keeps us forever in samsara.

31. Whatever circumstances we run into, our first thought should always be "reciting the name of the Buddha", nothing else. We will then plant only seeds of recitation in our eighth field of cognition. Therefore, what we should practice daily is to convert all sounds we hear, be it birds singing, vehicles moving, or people talking, into sounds of chanting Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. That is to say, instead of being distracted, we should integrate all external noises and phenomena into our practice of reciting the name of the Buddha.

32. "Becoming an impeccable person equals attaining Buddhahood." The Dharma is in itself complete, adroit, and expedient. A practitioner should be strict in disciplining him/herself but considerate when dealing with others. Be patient in whatever you do, be kind, compassionate, and tolerant to whomever you meet, and help others when circumstances arise. By doing so, you are fostering good affinity with all beings.

33. The essence of "seeking guidance" is to make use of all circumstances to examine our own minds, to see whether they are vexed, deluded, or discriminating. That is, we should observe the incipience of our each and every thought to ensure that our minds remain undiscriminating, undefiled, and unfettered. This is the true meaning of seeking guidance.

34. The most important thing for a practitioner is to recite the name of the Buddha with an undivided mind. The second is to practice "forbearance". Shut your ears and eyes, pretend not to see or hear when people say or do disagreeable things; instead, be gentle with them and do not become vexed. "Forbearance" is crucial in practice.

35. Practice reciting the name of the Buddha to the extent that "flowers flourish and the Buddha comes into view". We all have a Buddha immanent in our minds. When we practice recitation to the extent that our minds are pure and free of vexations, we will meet Buddha within ourselves. Therefore, only by the extinction of all vexations can we attain the stage where "flowers flourish and the Buddha comes into view". We should practice compassion and forbearance in our daily lives while avoiding impulsiveness and petulance and controlling our temper. Be adroit and harmonious when dealing with people and handle everything with the help of reason. Seek not the faults of others and do not be vexed by the rights or wrongs we perceive. Be gentle and kind to others, though not for the sake of building up connections. Treat everyone, be he/she moral or immoral, with equality and impartiality. Do not turn others away with an icy face. With every move intended for the benefit of others and done with sympathetic compassion, not only will we foster good affinity with others but our minds will be purified and ourselves free of all vexations. We are thereby attaining the stage where "flowers flourish and the Buddha comes into view".

36. Unless all emotional attachments are relinquished, merely reciting the Buddha's name with your tongue will not help you escape the cycle of birth and death. Recite with all sincerity and an undivided mind and relinquish myriad attachments, then you will be reborn in the Pure Land.

37. "The truth will come forth when you have faith; your prayers will be answered if you pray with sincerity." Recite the Buddha's name with all sincerity, then you will feel the auspiciousness indicating the presence of the Buddha. Have a deep conviction that Buddhas and Bodhisattvas fill the void of the universe. However, they only correspond with minds of utmost sincerity.

38. Reciting the name of the Buddha is very powerful in that it helps to eradicate our karmic obstructions and unfold our wisdom. But do not cling to the "form" of recitation; nor should you be attached to the color and form (i.e. physical existence) of this world. Otherwise, your mind cannot be pure or liberated, i.e. you will remain in the confinement of the five skandhas (form, sensation, perception, volition, and consciousness), and your liberation will remain a daydream with no prospect of realization.

39. When practice recitation, you should do it with an undivided mind to the extent that "(your) mind is open and flowers (of your mind) flourish." That is to say when your mind is purified through recitation, you will naturally be free of vexations. When your mind is not crowded with destructive ideas generated by your greed, anger, and ignorance, it will not be inverted and, together with your body, will be free and at ease. When you attain that stage, this world is the Pure Land.

40. It takes a long time to attain any stage in practice. Therefore, we ought to practice training our minds all the time. For example, while others are chatting, practice recitation within our minds. Always be watchful lest our minds should become slack and scattered. Keep on reciting the Buddha's name; we can do it even while we are walking.

41. Right mindfulness is crucial for practicing recitation. Keep reciting "Namah Amitabha Buddha" and you will naturally acquire right mindfulness. Recitation should be done to the extent that your mind never leaves the Buddha, nor the Buddha your mind, and that your mind is undivided, free of perplexity and inversion.

42. For lay practitioners, the best way to practice is to recite the name of the Buddha. Also, better avoid running around lest your mind should become scattered and bewildered. Concentrate on your recitation!

43. The purpose of reciting the name of the Buddha is to restrain and stabilize our minds. We may not be aware of it, but the reason we remain in the cycle of rebirths is because our minds are always in a state of fluctuation; they are swayed too easily by ever-changing circumstances thereby confine us to this eternal prison of birth and death. Therefore, the purpose of recitation is to calm the mind. Practice begins with the mind; liberation from samsara also depends on the mind.

44. We all will run into numerous obstacles in the course of practice. At times, we may feel overwhelmed by a problem and are consumed by the ensuing delusion and vexations. But with a change of perception, the seemingly formidable obstacle may be disposed of with ease. The purpose of practice, then, is to train our minds so that this "change of perception" will occur spontaneously. What we should keep in mind is the single notion of recitation. Constantly recite "Amitabha Buddha" in our minds. This will offset the seeds of delusion and vexations we have planted in our previous lives and help us transcend adversities through change of perceptions. When our minds are free of discrimination, feeling neither love nor distaste, we are in the state of samadhi.

45. Reciting the name of the Buddha helps us expel our erroneous and illusive thoughts. At the moment when not a single thought of ours is fraught with illusions and inversions, it is wisdom unfolding.

46. "Life is so impermanent that it can end within a breath." Instead of relying on others to recite the name of the Buddha at our deathbed, we should practice recitation all along to prepare ourselves for that crucial moment. Otherwise, there is little hope for us to be reborn in the Pure Land.

47. "Myraid Dharma originated from the mind." All circumstances are created by our minds. If our minds are unperturbed, everything will seem stable, and we will have fewer worries. Recitation is a very powerful method. If we keep concentrating on reciting the Buddha's name, our minds will become unperturbed and unfettered. On the other hand, if our minds are under the full sway of our desires and circumstances, we will be confined to the cycle of rebirths forever. We should know that the merit of recitation is tremendous and that it is a great blessing for us to come across this discipline. By simply reciting "Amitabha Buddha", we can expect to escape the prison of birth and death and attain Buddhahood.

48. How can our minds prevail over circumstances? One simple method is to keep reciting the name of the Buddha. Always keep in mind the name of "Amitabha Buddha!" This method suits most people. It is the easiest, fastest, and most direct way to practice, and is especially suitable for the contemporary people, whatever their capacity may be. Even an illiterate old lady can practice recitation well. The level you will attain depends solely on the strength of your faith. Never look down upon this simple phrase of "Namah Amitabha Buddha". Recitation is one of the methods of the Mahayana school and is by no means easy to practice. Master Yin-Kuang once remarked that: "If one can recite 'Amitabha Buddha' well, it will be more than sufficient for one to attain Buddhahood." Never worry that you don't have enough time for practice. Whatever you do, if you keep reciting the name of the Buddha, you are practicing.

49. There are many techniques for practicing recitation. Before attaining a certain level, we tend to switch among various routines. Sometimes, we feel one technique is particularly effective for restraining the mind. However, we may soon switch to another routine because it seems more beneficial. The "good" or "bad", though, are merely distinctions of our minds. Before attaining a certain level, our minds are bound to be restless; it is a process during the course of practice before our minds finally settle for one routine. In fact, all techniques are equally useful. Whether we give up one routine in favor of another, they are all choices made by the essence of our minds. A diligent practitioner will not cling to any specific routine. "It is the essence of the mind that recites the name of the Buddha and the same that listens." Recitation is only an "idea" that flashes through our minds; what's most important is that through recitation we can make this flash of idea tranquil, stable, and immovable.

50. When practice recitation, do not cling to the auspiciousness you experience, or dwell on any kind of sensation, feeling, or form. Whatever you see or feel, it is no more than a phantasm, a magical delusion. To dwell on such sensation or vision is quite dangerous! Do not brag about what you see during practice. All forms are nothing but your own illusions.

51. Buddha and mara (the tempter) exist only in our perception. Right mindfulness conceives Buddha while evil thoughts generate mara. If you worry about family affairs and can't concentrate while reciting the Buddha's name, you have yet to attain right mindfulness. To practice means that you should relinquish all worldly concerns. If in the monastery your mind still lingers around your family, you are no different from a lay person, and this attachment is the source of your remaining in the cycle of birth and death. Concentrate on your practice and try to enlighten your family with Buddhadharma so that they can also be liberated. Otherwise, the entanglements between you and your family members will continue for endless lives to come and none of you can hope to escape samsara.

52. While practicing recitation, you may reach the state of samadhi where your mind is undivided and free of perplexity. Do not cling to such attainment. Feel no good or bad, love or distaste, indifference or attachment, success or failure, gain or loss. Let all sentiments return to their original quiescent void, in which the brilliance of the essence of your mind will unfold.

53. If you wish to unfold your wisdom or to attain any specific stage through recitation, you are still clinging tightly to your sense of "self". All Buddhas and Bodhisattvas gain nothing and desire nothing.

54. The best way to counter erroneous and illusive thoughts springing up during your practice is simply to ignore them and continue your recitation. Worrying about "how to do away with the dispersed thoughts" will only add to your vexations. The more you recite the Buddha's name, the less likely it will be for illusive thoughts to arise. Besides, frequent recitation will also help to reduce your worldly desire and make it easier for your mind to become undivided.