Q: Some elderly people recite Buddha’s name, but they have not taken refuge. Can they be reborn in the Western Land? There is a line in the
Amitabha Sutra that says, “One cannot have few good roots, blessings, virtues, and causal connections to attain birth in that land.” Some people have taken refuge and also recite Buddha’s name, but they do not have such blessings and conditions. Will they be able to be reborn to the Western Land?
A: It says, “Few good roots, blessings, virtues, and causal connections.” How much is enough? Is there a definite number? A Sutra says, “It’s not just from the good roots planted with one Buddhas, two Buddhas, three, four, or five Buddhas... You have planted good roots with limitless millions of Buddhas,” so now you can encounter the Buddha recitation practice. Whether or not you will be born there, just recite Buddha’s name singlemindedly. If you analyze everything, there are endlessly many things in this world. The statement that “One cannot have few good roots, blessings, virtues, and causal connections to attain birth in that land” shows that the people who encounter this dharma have planted many good roots, not a few. Those who have only few good roots would not even know of this dharma door.
Q: People who are dying usually recite the names of Amitabha Buddha, Guanyin Bodhisattva, and Great Strength Bodhisattva; however, I have seen people recite the name of Earth Store Bodhisattva instead. I joined them and recited Earth Store Bodhisattva’s name, but I was thinking, “What am I reciting?” When we recite Amitabha’s name with great concentration, I know that the deceased will be reborn in the world of Ultimate Bliss. However, I don’t know where the deceased is headed when we recite Earth Store Bodhisattva’s name.
A: You’d be better off not reciting anything and just crying. If you do not know where the deceased is going when you recite and your mind is really focused, that’s even better! You haven’t been reciting at all; you’ve merely been having idle thoughts.
Q: A group of people helped recite Buddha’s name for someone who had suffered a very severe stroke, hoping he could be reborn in the Pure Land. Instead, he recovered. Some people said he could not be reborn in the world of Ultimate Bliss because he lacked affinities. Are they right?
A: Since it was not time for him to be reborn, he recovered. If the time had come, he would have departed. That’s all.
Q: After a person dies, what should we do for the next 49 days to help the deceased be reborn in the world of Ultimate Bliss?
A: The best way is to save people, to help people. It is better to save people than ghosts. You must have proper mindfulness at the time of death. Recite the Buddha’s name regularly to prepare for that final moment. Often people recite the Buddha’s name regularly, but when it comes to that critical moment they lose proper mindfulness. They cannot recite anymore. No matter where you are within the worlds of ten directions, if you recite Amitabha’s name, you will be reborn in the Pure Land.
Q. Reciting the Buddha’s name once eradicates offenses equal in number to the grains of sand in a river. How should we recite Buddha’s name in order to achieve that?
A. Stay focused and concentrate when you recite.
Q. My second question is about “turning heavy offenses into lighter ones.” Buddhist books always urge Buddhists to repent sincerely.
A. If you recite Buddha’s name even once, the heavy offense has already vanished. Why do you want to turn it into a lighter one? That’s just a waste of time.
Q. According to Shakyamuni Buddha, “Fixed karma can not be altered.” When living beings’ minds are not tainted by poisonous or malicious thoughts, they do not suffer even when they experience karmic obstacles. Is this another way to illustrate that bad karma has been diminished?
A. You keep going around in circles. You’re wasting time! When you recite the Buddha’s name once, offenses as numerous as the grains of sand in a river vanish. Offenses as numerous as all the sand grains in a river have already vanished, even heavy offenses. What are you still searching for? Repentance means reciting Buddha’s name single-mindedly!
Q. The sutras always say that repentance can eliminate karma, or that once our karmas vanish, we can be reborn in the pure land. Yet even after Shakyamuni Buddha attained Buddhahood, he still faced the consequence of karmic obstacles. Why do the sutras always talk about repenting to eliminate karma, and the limitless karmic offences that vanish with repentance?
A. Before Shakyamuni Buddha became a Buddha, there was no such dharma of repentance. He spoke this dharma after he became Buddha. Before he became Buddha, he did not know this dharma. “Karma ended and passions emptied” refers to the future. Therefore, he still had to undergo the consequences of the karma he created in the past and of all the passionate feelings he had in the past. The karma he ended was his future karma and passion. He still had to undergo the consequences of whatever karma he created in the past. Therefore, as Buddhists, we cannot get out of repaying our debts.
Q. Elder Master Feng Gan and Chan Master Yong Ming Yan Shou were manifestations of Amitabha Buddha. When they save people in the dharma realm of humans, are they bound by cause and effect? If they did something wrong, would they have to face karmic obstacles?
A. One will always face the consequences of one’s actions, whether good or bad, in due time. Good deeds result in good rewards; offenses result in unpleasant retributions. If the karmic results have not come, it’s because the time has not yet arrived. We only have to look at the karma a person created in the past. Let alone Chan Master Yong Ming Yan Shou, even Shakyamuni Buddha had the retribution of being injured by a spear and having to eat horsefeed.
Carrying along one’s karma to rebirth in the Pure Land refers to carrying past karma, not current karma, carrying old karma but not new karma. What does that mean? That means that the karmic offenses you created before you understood the practice of reciting the Buddha’s name can be carried with you to rebirth in the Pure Land. However, if you continue to commit offenses after you learn about reciting the Buddha’s name, you cannot carry that karma with you. Once you know about reciting the Buddha’s name, you should reform and not commit offenses again. If you create bad karma again, your offenses will accumulate and you cannot carry them with you to the Pure Land. Therefore, you are able to bring only your past karma and karma that you created in your past lives with you to the Pure Land. This life, however, after you have recited Buddha’s name, you should not commit any more offenses. If you do, you not only cannot bring this karma with you to rebirth, your bad karma will be doubled because you do it intentionally. Therefore, you can bring your past karma but not the current karma, and the old karma but not the new karma. You now understand the Buddhadharma and say, “As I recite the Buddha’s name, I can also create [bad] karma, and in the future, bring it with me to the world of Ultimate Bliss!” That is wrong. Since you realize the consequences but do it intentionally, your offenses are tripled. Not only can you not bring it with you, you cannot be reborn in the Pure Land. Why not? You are locked down by your karma. If we believe in the Buddha and recite the Buddha’s name, we should remember not to create bad karma again.
Why is it that all karma and offenses can be expunged during the moment of death when one hears the name of a Buddha, a Bodhisattva, a Pratyekabuddha? Because warmth, breath, and cognizance will cease when one dies – warmth, breath, and consciousness form the source of life. When one dies, the source of life ceases; when that happens, warmth will go first, then breath; when breath is gone, consciousness will follow. The cessation of warmth, breath, and consciousness means death.
“When a bird is dying, its cry is piteous; when a person is dying, his words are virtuous.” When a person is about to die, intrinsic goodness is uncovered, and his conscience emerges. At that point he reflects upon every right or wrong thing he did in the past. He recognizes that all the bad things he did were truly wrong and feels repentant. When the sense of repentance arises, if he hears even just the name of a Buddha, a Bodhisattva, or a Pratyekabuddha, unlimited offenses are extinguished and unlimited good roots are cultivated. Therefore, the moment of death is the most critical time; it is also at the moment that it is most difficult to bring forth wholesome thoughts.
Why do we recite Buddha’s name at ordinary times? It is to prepare us not to forget about Amitabha Buddha at our death. You will not forget it because you recite it normally. If you wish to recite the Buddha’s name only when you are about to die, it is difficult for you to give rise to that wholesome thought; however, if that thought arises, it is extremely effective. As long as you have a single thought of repentance, all karma can be eradicated.