Why do we recite the Buddha’s name in ordinary times? Reciting in ordinary times prepares us for our final hour. Why don’t we wait until the last hour to recite? Because habits are formed by gradually through the days and months. If you’re not in the habit of reciting at ordinary times, at your last moment you won’t remember to recite, or won’t even know what to recite. So it’s important to practice reciting the Buddha’s name and cultivate the Pure Land Dharma-door on a regular basis. Then you won’t panic at the time of death, and you’ll be able to attain peaceful rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.
Why do we want to get reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss? Because when Amitabha Buddha was the Bhikshu Fazang (Dharma Treasury) in a past life, he made forty-eight great vows. In one of these vows he said,
“After I have become a Buddha, if there are living beings in the ten directions who recite my name, I will receive them and bring them to my land, and they will become Buddhas in the future. In my land, all living beings are born transformationally from lotus flowers, so their bodies will be pure and have no defilement.” Because of these great vows made by Amitabha Buddha, all living beings should cultivate the Dharma-door of reciting the Buddha’s name. This is a very appropriate and easy Dharma-door to cultivate. The Sutras also say,
“In the Dharma-ending Age, it will be rare even for one out of a hundred million cultivators to attain the Way. Only by reciting the Buddha’s name can living beings be saved.”
However, in the West, it’s not the Dharma-ending Age right now. It’s the Proper Dharma Age, because the Buddhadharma has just been transmitted to the West, and it has just started to flourish. Therefore, many Americans like to sit in meditation and investigate Chan. This is an indication of the Proper Dharma Age. During the Proper Dharma Age, people can also cultivate the Dharma-door of reciting the Buddha’s name, as can people in the Dharma-ending Age. In fact, people of all ages can cultivate this Dharma-door. If people have difficulty developing their skills in other Dharma-doors, they can cultivate the Dharma-door of reciting the Buddha’s name.
One who truly investigates Chan is really reciting the Buddha’s name, and one who really recites is truly investigating Chan. Let me explain further: one who truly upholds the precepts is really investigating Chan, and one who really investigates Chan is truly upholding the precepts. A true Sutra lecturer who speaks Sutras for the sake of speaking Sutras is also truly investigating Chan. The
“Song of Enlightenment” by Great Master Yongjia says:
The (Chan) school penetrated and the doctrines penetrated.
Samadhi and wisdom are completely clear;
I do not stagnate in emptiness.
One who is capable of investigating Chan and explaining Sutras has mastered both the practice of Chan and the doctrines. Further, one who truly recites mantras, a true cultivator of the esoteric school, is also truly investigating Chan.
Although there are the five schools－Chan, Doctrines, Vinaya [Ethics], Esoteric, and Pure Land－fundamentally there is only one. Actually, if we take it one step further, there isn’t even one, so how could there be five? A person who is truly studying Buddhism should be very clear about this. People with sectarian prejudices may think that the Dharma-door of reciting the Buddha’s name is the best and investigating Chan isn’t right, or others may say investigating Chan is the best and reciting the Buddha’s name is a mistake. These people haven’t understood the Buddhadharma yet. We should be aware that it’s all Buddhadharma, all equally unattainable. Since there is no dharma to be attained, why add a head on top of a head? Why look for something to do when there’s nothing to be done? If you truly understand the Dharma, there isn’t a dharma to be attained. However, if you tell people who don’t understand the Dharma that there is nothing, they will be very disappointed. So the Buddha used provisional Dharma in order to speak the actual Dharma; he spoke expedient wisdom for the sake of real wisdom. What is real wisdom? Real wisdom is “returning to attaining nothing.” Absolute reality has no characteristics, and yet it characterizes everything. This is true and real wisdom.