Warnings to the Assembly
by Grand Master Chu-hung (The Eighth Pureland Patriarch)
From Pure Land Pure Mind
Translated by J.C. Cleary
Edited by Van Hien Study Group
 

Plain Talk

        After I left home, I went everywhere studying and paying visits [to teachers]. At the time Master Pien-jung's teaching center was flourishing, so I went to the capital to call on him.
        [When I met him,] I got down on my knees and asked him again and again [to instruct me]. He said to me, "You should hold to your fundamental obligations. Don't go hankering after fame and pursuing profit. Don't go clinging to those you think will help you. Just be clear about cause and effect, and singlemindedly practice buddha-remembrance." I accepted his teaching and left.
        My fellow travellers laughed at me, thinking, "Anyone could say these few sentences. You came from so far away, and this is all Pien-jung told you!  Where's the loftiness, the subtlety? Actually [this advice] is not worth half a cent!"
        I said, "This shows precisely what's good about him. We were thirsting [for knowledge], looking up to him, expecting to revere him, and so we came here from afar. But he did not trick us with talk of the primal source and subtle wonders.  Instead, he just instructed us in the plainest, most sincere way with the close-at-hand, pure and genuine work that he himself has personally known. This is what's good about him."
        From then on, up till now, I have in fact kept to [what Pien-jung taught me], and never abandoned it.
 

Belief (Faith)

        Of the essential gates for entering the Path, belief (faith) is number one.[1]  Without belief, the essential things will not get accomplished, nor will anything good at all be accomplished.
        Here is a worldly metaphor.  When robbers are denounced and apprehended, the government always punishes them severely. If these robbers were let go and pardoned after their arrest, they would continue as before and not repent. Why? Because they would then believe that they did not have to pay back a cent for their nefarious conduct, and would get to keep for themselves profits beyond reckoning. Therefore they are made to suffer pain, so they will definitely not go back on their repentance.

        These days people recite the buddha-name, but they are unwilling to get serious and really exert themselves at it. This is because they have not deeply pondered [the Buddhist Teaching] and come to believe in it truly.
        I don't want to say that you do not believe in the Pure Land. [But remember], the World Honored One said, "Human life [may only last] from one breath to the next."  The meaning of this sentence is not hard to understand. You have personally seen and heard [of the fragility of human life] with your eyes and ears, and you have experienced many examples of it. But right now when I demand that you believe in this statement, you are unable to do so. If you really and truly believed in this statement, I would not have to spend all my energy warning you a thousand times to practice the method of buddha-remembrance.
But [the natural course of impermanence] is like water flowing into a gully: no force can hold it back. The day before yesterday when we had a funeral for a dead monk, you saw an example [of the impermanence of life that Buddha was talking about], and you were sad and unhappy.
        Let me warn you all and urge you on by telling you this: Today we hold a funeral for one monk, tomorrow a funeral for another. Before you know it, it will be your turn, and then it will be too late for regrets.
        You must get busy with buddha-remembrance. Don't waste any time.
        I see you saying to yourselves that time is precious, and saying to other people that time is precious;  but when you are in the monks' hall chattering, you are talking and laughing and taking it easy as usual. In fact you do not [act as if you genuinely] believe that human life [can end] from one breath to the next.
 

Gathering In The Mind

        I see new students and young people who stick the word "Buddha" in their minds to block off worries and false thoughts -- which they then feel bubbling up even more -- and think that this is the work of buddha-remembrance. They cannot rein in their minds. They do not know that the root-source of birth and death over countless eons cannot be instantly cut off.
        But the moment when myriad thoughts are flying around in confusion is precisely the time to do the work. The more you gather [your mind] in, the more it scatters. The more it scatters, the more you gather it in. After a long time the work becomes pure and ripe, and false thoughts naturally do not arise.
        Still, [the very fact that] you are able to become aware that false thoughts are a serious matter, is due to this one word  "Buddha."  If  you  did  not  practice buddha-remembrance, false thoughts would surge on and on without stopping for an instant, but you would never manage to notice.
 

Reciting the Buddha-Name to Rein in the Mind

        In  buddha-remembrance  through  reciting  the buddha-name, there is reciting the buddha-name silently, there is reciting it in a loud voice, and there is diamond recitation.
        When you recite it in a loud voice, it feels like too much exertion. When you recite it silently, it is easy to sink into a torpor. It is called diamond recitation when you recite it closely and continuously with the sound between your lips and teeth.
        But do not cling to this as a fixed rule. If you feel you are expending too much effort, then go ahead and recite silently. If you feel you are sinking into a torpor, then go ahead and recite in a loud voice. Every repetition of the sound should come out of your mouth and enter your ears, and awaken your inherent mind. It's like a man fast asleep: another man calls, "Hey you!" and he immediately wakes up. This is why reciting the buddha-name is the best means for reining in the mind.
 

The Death Toll

        People today are unwilling to recite the buddha-name. They scorn the Western Paradise. They do not know that [the Pure Land teaching of] rebirth in the West is the expedient by which worthy sages of great merit and wisdom  transform  our  mundane  world  [called] "Endurance" into the Pure Land [of Amitabha Buddha]. They do not know that, as a causal basis [for enlightenment], this [Pure Land method] is not for those of little ability.
        Just look around at how many people die in this city in a day and a night. [For most of them,] it's not a question of birth in the Western Paradise: out of the hundreds and thousands [who die every twenty-four hours], scarcely one is reborn in heaven. Those among them who credit themselves with cultivating Buddhist practice accomplish nothing more than to avoid losing their human bodies [in their next incarnation].[2]
        This is why our [Buddha], the World Honored One, with  great  compassion,  taught this method [of buddha-remembrance]. [In showing us this method] his merit surpasses heaven and earth, and his benevolence goes beyond that of our parents. Even having our bones pulverized and our bodies broken to pieces would not be enough to repay Buddha's benevolence.
 

Dying Well

        When I was young, I did not yet know of buddha-remembrance. In a neighbor's house I happened to see an old woman who recited the buddha-name several thousand times every day. I asked her, "Why do you do this?"   She said, "My late husband recited the buddha-name in days past, and [when he died] he departed very well. Therefore I recite the buddha-name like this. When my late husband departed, there was no sickness. He just invited people over and said goodbye."
        [Given that laypeople can achieve such constancy in Pure Land practice], how can someone who has left home [to be a monk or nun] not recite the buddha-name?
 

NOTES

[1] Three factors, faith, vows and practice, are the cornerstones of Pure Land Buddhism. If there are present, rebirth in the Pure Land is assured. Faithmeans faith in Amitabha Buddha's Vows to rescue all who recite His name, as well as faith in one's own Self-Nature, which is intrinsically the same as His(to recite the Buddha's name is to recite the Mind). Vowsare the determination to be reborn in the Pure Land -- in one's pure mind -- so as to be in the position to save oneself and others. Practicegenerally means reciting the Buddha's name to the point where one's mind and that of Amitabha Buddha are in unison -- i.e., to the point of singlemindedness. Samadhi and wisdom are then achieved.
    Please note that all Buddhists teachings are expedients, dividing the one and the indivisible Truth into many parts. Faith, vows and practice, although three, are really one. Thus, it can be said that rebirth in the Pure Land depends on three conditions or two conditions(faith and vows) or even one condition(faith), as the one contains all and all are contained in the one. The formula to be used depends on the audience and the times. The aim is to enable sentient beings to achieve rebirth in the Pure Land as a steppingstone toward Buddhahood.

[2] According to Buddhist teaching, keeping the five precepts results in rebirth in human form, while keeping the ten precepts results in rebirth as a deva(deity). Since the human and celestial realms are still subject to birth and death, however, rebirth there is not the goal of Pure Land Buddhists. They seek rebirth in the Land of Amitabha Buddha, a realm transcending birth and death.