Thought after thought is true and sincere; thought after thought penetrates.
Working quietly, there's a response in the midst of the quiet work.
Go straight to the place beyond the mountains and streams,
And you will be free to roam the Dharma Realm, going east or west as you please.
Has everyone awakened to the true meaning of the above verse?
The first "thought" refers to the thought produced from the mind. The second thought comes from the mouth. It originates in the mind and takes form in the mouth. If you only keep the secondary thought of the mouth, it doesn't count as a thought of true sincerity. Therefore, the mind and the mouth must both be sincere in reciting the name of the Buddha or Bodhisattva. We should recite until the mind and mouth unite into one, and are no longer two. We should not recite casually or with a scattered mind, nor should we entertain idle thoughts while reciting. If we can fulfill these conditions, then we can be considered sincere.
If our thoughts are sincere, we will certainly obtain a response. What kind of response? Our common mind will interpenetrate with the light of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, as in the saying,
The lights shine upon one another;
The holes mutually connect.
Why will such a response occur? It's like making a phone call: after you dial the number, the other person answers, "Hello?" Then you can say what you need to say and communicate with each other. Reciting the Bodhisattva's name is like dialing the number. Then the Bodhisattva will ask you, "Good man (Good woman), what do you seek?" At that point, you will obtain whatever you seek. But if you aren't sincere, it will be like dialing only three digits of a five-digit phone number. How can the call go through? Reciting the Bodhisattva's name is the same. If you recite for a while and then stop because you lack sincerity, your recitation certainly won't go through.
The response of lights shining upon one another can only be felt by the people who personally do it. Similarly, when there's a phone call, you have to pick up the receiver in order to hear the caller clearly, because the eyes of ordinary people cannot see the sound waves. So it is said, "Working quietly, there's a response in the midst of the quiet work."
"Beyond the mountains and streams" refers to the state of: "At the top of a hundred-foot pole, take another step. Let go in midair and another world appears."
When you recite to the point that the mountains and streams have vanished, you are basically reciting, yet not reciting. You are reciting with a single mind, in a state of uninterrupted mindfulness. At that time, "you will be free to roam the Dharma Realm, going east or west as you please." If we want to be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss in the West, we can recite and obtain the response of being reborn there. If we want to turn the ship of kindness around and come back to save living beings on a vast scale, we can also recite and obtain the response of returning to the Saha world, east of the Land of Ultimate Bliss. In general, we can recite and obtain the response of going to any Dharma Realm. So the verse says, "going east or west as you please." It is said,
When one wish is fulfilled, all wishes are fulfilled.
When we are at ease in one place, we are at ease everywhere.
Therefore in studying Buddhism, we must always be sincere. If we are false, then we are nothing but "sterile blossoms that don't bear fruit." So in the practice of Buddhism, take care not to cheat yourself.
Furthermore, the ancients have said, "The superior person makes demands on himself. The petty person makes demands on others." We should not be dependent on others. We should recognize that responses result from our own efforts; they don't come from a provisional explanation spoken for greedy living beings who hope to put in a little effort and obtain a lot. This is like loan sharks that give a little and take in a lot. The sages accommodated the potentials of living beings and said that the Buddha's power leads us, with the goal of making living beings recite vigorously. In reality, when they recite the names of the Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, they are relying on their own strength to obtain rebirth in the Pure Land. How is this the case?
When you recite the Buddha's name, does the Buddha recite for you? Does the thought of reciting the Bodhisattvas' names come from the Bodhisattvas? If not, then how can you say you rely on an external strength? For example, when the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas bestow aid by shining their light on you, that's also in response to your efforts in reciting the names of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Consider the analogy of a phone call again. If you don't make the call, then who's going to answer the phone? The same principle applies to reciting the Buddha's name.
Actually, hoping the Buddha's power will lead us to rebirth in the Pure Land is just greed and dependency, and we don't want that. In cultivation, we want to rely on our own strength, rouse our spirits, pluck up courage, and vigorously advance. Know that rewards and retributions cannot be given to you by others. Therefore, when we recite the Buddha's name, we're not really relying on the Buddha's power to lead us.
The ancients also said, "No man is a general or prime minister by birth. One must rely on his own effort to obtain such a position." We who study Buddhism should stand up tall and say,
No one is a Buddha by birth.
A living being must rely on his own effort to achieve Buddhahood.
If you don't do this, but instead rely on the Buddha's power all day long, you are just like the children of rich families who depend on what they inherit from their parents and older brothers. In the end, you only hurt yourself. Everyone should quickly wake up!