Starting from this week, we will talk about the Pure Land Dharma Door. Let’s begin by studying about the truth. But before that, let me tell you something related. In 1977, Venerable Master Hua said, “The national treasures (that is, important people) of the world, in 20 to 30 years, will come to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. These people are scholars. They come because the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is a place where they can investigate the truth about life.”
Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva and Amitabha Buddha have great affinities with the living beings of the Saha World. The Chinese have a saying, “Every family knows Guan Yin. Every household knows Amitabha.” We, Buddhist disciples, greet each other with “Amitabha”. Why don’t we say “Earth Store Bodhisattva?” Let’s look into why we recite the Buddha’s name and the holy name of Guan Yin.
According to the sutra, wise people require examples in order to understand. Therefore, I’ll first tell you a true story. There was a medical student who was going to take an examination on human anatomy. During summer vacation, she took a human skull home to study. On her way home by train, she placed the skull in a simple bag and held it in her hand. She thought to herself, “If anyone knew that this was a real skull, they would be very surprised.”
After she got home, she studied the skull everyday. Her female cousin saw it and thought it was very interesting. She picked it up and started having fun with it. While laughing, she said, “The eyes are like two caves; the nose is flat. It’s really cute.” The student told her cousin, “Because of their contribution, we are able to study and, in the future, rescue people. Therefore, we should pay our respect and show our appreciation.” Before finishing these words, her cousin already flung the skull far away and started screaming out of fright, blaming her, “Why didn’t you tell me earlier that this was a real skull?” The student quickly apologized and said, “Sorry, I didn’t know you weren’t aware that the skull is real. However, you were having much fun with it just a while ago. A real skull isn’t necessarily scary. Our skin covers it. That’s all.”
The story tells us that we live within the reality, which our mind creates. Although the skull didn’t change one bit, the cousin’s emotion changed dramatically after finding out the truth. Even though the skull is real, if we consider it to be something fake, made of plastic or some other synthetic material, then we won’t be the least bit frightened. Once we connect the skull with ghost stories in our mind, the whole situation becomes scary. Our emotions become weak and we might even have a heart attack. The truth is, we all have bones wrapped inside our flesh. It’s very ordinary. Do we need to be scared?
Let’s now talk about a true principle, which is, “He illuminated the five
skandhas and saw that they are all empty, and he crossed beyond all suffering and difficulty.” The
Heart Sutra says, “When Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara was practicing the profound Prajna Paramita, he illuminated the five
skandhas and saw that they are all empty, and he crossed beyond all suffering and difficulty.” What are the five
skandhas? They are form, feeling, cognition, formation, and consciousness. Five form dharmas and the mind dharma.
What are form dharmas? All which the eyes can see, the ears can hear, the nose can smell, the tongue can taste, and the body can touch are the form dharmas. What is feeling? When we encounter a certain situation, our feelings arise accordingly. There is the feeling of suffering, the feeling of happiness, and the feeling of neither suffering nor happiness. What is the feeling of suffering? When we face something that doesn’t go our way, we get afflicted. For example, when someone scolds or beats us, we feel very frustrated and give rise to afflictions. What is the feeling of happiness? When we face something that goes our way, we become happy. For example, today, we are eating well-prepared, delicious food and our hearts are delighted. What is the feeling of neither suffering nor happiness? The routine activities that we go through everyday cause us neither happiness nor unhappiness, in particular.
Now let’s discuss cognition, formation, and consciousness. What is cognition? When the five organs come in contact with the five objects, we produce many kinds of thoughts and views, which are all very subjective. What is formation? After we give rise to a thought, we put it into action. What is consciousness? After we put it into action, we give rise to discrimination between good and bad.
Let’s take this true principle and apply it to the story. Let’s speak from the standpoint of the form
skandha. The medical student sees the skull everyday and views it as being very ordinary. When the cousin first saw the skull, she was not scared because she didn’t discriminate. Let’s now speak of the feeling
skandha. The skull did not change. But when the cousin found out the truth, she was terrified. Let’s talk in terms of the cognition
skandha. Right when the cousin thought, “This is a dead person’s skull,” she was terrified and turned by her own random thoughts and views. Let’s use the formation
skandha. The cousin threw the skull far away because she was frightened out of her wits. Let’s talk in terms of the consciousness
skandha. After all this, she discriminated and thought this skull was scary because it belonged to a dead person.
From this analysis, we understand that form, feeling, cognition, formation, and consciousness differ according to different people, places, time, and situations. They are temporary, illusory, and without true substance. Her cousin felt afflicted but the student didn’t. We are also tricked by our views and imagination. We can say that form doesn’t confuse people; people confuse themselves. The skull doesn’t scare people. People scare themselves. Situations cannot put frustration onto people. People get frustrated of themselves.
How do this principle, the story, and the Pure Land Dharma Door connect? All virtuous ones and Patriarchs tell us that due to the thought we have at this moment, “Something that is completely real can become false. Something that is completely false can become true. To the end of time, it does not change. To the end of time, it accords with conditions. If we are not mindful of the Buddha realm, we exist in the other nine realms. If we are not mindful of the three sagely realms, we exist in the other six common realms.” Our minds are very powerful. “Something that is completely real can become false.” We can transform something real into something fake. “Something that is completely false can become true.” Something that’s clearly fake is not apart from real. Just like in the story, the cousin, at first, thought the skull was a man-made teaching material. It was fake. She had a lot of fun with it. How would she realize the cute skull was not fake! Therefore, she was terrified.
We talk about the realms of existence. We do not have to die in order to enter into other realms of existence. We should know, “Every thought is a cause to be reborn into another realm.” Every thought that arises will eventually lead us to rebirth in different realms. When we are mindful of the Buddha, we eventually become a Buddha. When we are mindful of greed, anger, and delusion, we eventually fall into the three evil destinies. Everything is made from the mind alone. If we aren’t mindful of the Buddha, we are mindful of living beings. If we aren’t mindful of the Pure Land, we are mindful of the Saha world. If we are mindful of living beings, we will surely become living beings in the future. If we’re mindful of the Saha world, we will certainly come back to the Saha world. When we recite the Buddha’s name, we plant the unsurpassed seed. In the future, when we are about to die, the Buddha will appear before us. We’ll be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss and become a Buddha. If we recite the Bodhisattva’s name, we will become Bodhisattvas.
We should clearly understand the principle behind reciting the Buddha’s name. We should joyfully go forward and continuously recite the Buddha’s name with a peaceful mind. Live our life with compassion as if we’re in the Pure Land. If we can do this, we’ll always be happy. We’ll always live within the compassionate realm of the Buddhas.