The practice of Amidism aims at the exchange of the raw for the ripe product. One has to put aside what is known and what one understands in order to remove the personal element and to recover fundamental knowing and fundamental understanding.
One who is able to recover fundamental seeing will become a Buddha. The realization of Buddhahood does not mean that anything extra is added. It is simply to make use of the practice of Amidism to such an extent that one's self-nature and Buddha nature are totally integrated in the process and all impure thoughts of the mind are totally eradicated. Buddha nature appears whenever the defilements of the mind are completely and permanently removed.
The mind of a human being is originally enlightened and bright, extending through all the Dharma realms. However, as ignorance has prevailed since time without beginning, this original mind has been clouded by the six sensory organs and their objects.
Consequently, we are biased in our knowledge and understanding, recognizing only the physical body as the self while ignoring our inherent Buddha Nature, which pervades empty space and extends over all the Dharma realms.
It should be pointed out that the physical body, which is considered to be the self, is temporarily composed of seven major elements in the form of solids, liquids, gases, heat, space, root (sensory organs), and consciousness. When these components are separated, the body will no longer exist as a unit. For example, skin, flesh, tendons, and bones are solids. Blood and saliva are liquids. Warmth is derived from heat. Energy and movement involve elements in gaseous form. Spaces inside and outside the body are void (This space is essential in breathing). Each sense organ involves one area of consciousness. If these components were to separate, the person would no longer exist. Where, then, can the ego be found?
Actually, the ego, which is most often identified with the body, is composed of seven elements and is nothing but a container made of skin, filled with impurities, rotten and foul-smelling. Now, if in the course of the present lecture someone should suddenly send in a skin container filled with excrement, even though tightly sealed, we would all consider it filthy, and would hold our noses to avoid the smell, shy away, or even throw it out, considering it abhorrent. In fact, however, each one of it is an odorous container covered by skin and equipped with openings at both ends which emit unpleasant odors. As the saying states, "Uncleanness drains out from the nine orifices." Nevertheless, everyone considers this skin container to be the self, and so precious that it is adorned with cosmetics and nourished with food to enhance its beauty. In Buddha's view, such ideas are the most dangerous of confused illusions. We must all be aware that this body of ours, which everyone considers to be the self is really not the self but an object or instrument intended to serve, rather than rule our lives. It is not the ego. It is not "I" or "we." It is rather "mine" or "ours," because this body is only a part of that which belongs to us. Like an object that serves a certain purpose, we may use it whenever we want to, and put it aside whenever we do not want to use it. We should not be burdened by it. If we cannot put it aside, we are encumbered by that object.
According to the ordinary view, we consider the physical body as the self, and in addition to the self, we are aware of the physical bodies of others. Taking the self and others together, we have all sentient beings. Each and every sentient being desires to live long, and this continuity constitutes the idea of longevity. However, all these ideas are unreal noumena and illusory phenomena. For example, the concept of one's self and others is relative. According to this relationship, there is an awareness of self because I am aware of others; and conversely, there is self-awareness in others because I am aware of myself. The concept of sentient beings as a group is an illusion of causation, because they exist as a result of past karma, or the law of cause and effect. Longevity is an illusion based on the idea of continuity. If we dispense with these illusions, where can the real "ego" be found?
Moreover, "self" implies mastery or ownership. However, this physical "self" of ours is not its own master. For instance, when hungry, one cannot do without eating. When thirsty, one cannot do without drinking. At the end of one's life span, there is nothing to do but die. Facing something beautiful, one cannot resist casting a few more glances. Under conditions where there is indulgence of the five desires, one cannot resist experiencing enjoyment. Thus, a person is deprived of all mastery of the "self."
We should be aware that such things as eating, drinking, and enjoyment all pertain to material life. There is a beginning and an end to material existence. In addition to material life, each human being has a spiritual life which has neither beginning nor end. What is the essence of the spiritual life with neither beginning nor end? It is the essence of enlightenment inherent in each of us. Though invisible and intangible, this essence of enlightenment pervades empty space and fills all the Dharma realms. It is found everywhere. There is a saying which tells us that Voidness is generated in the Great Enlightenment, as bubbles burst out over the sea.
To practice Amidism, one is to cultivate the spiritual life; and relying on Buddha's power and his own strength, he aims to be reborn in the Western Paradise. Buddhist masters in the past, such as Grand Master Chih Cheh of T'ien T'ai, Ch'an Master Shou of Yung Ming, Grand Master Ou Yi, Ch'an Master Ch'eh Wu, and many others finally came to follow the Pure Land School, and concentrated on the practice of Amidism. They did this because they knew that a disciple who trains under other schools might probably lack aptitude in respect to background consequently go astray in his practice. However, those who practise Amidism, as long as there is strong, sufficient faith and determination, may rely on Buddha's power and their own effort, and they will never flounder aimlessly. Therefore, it may be said that Amidism is the most convenient and the most straightforward approach in treading the path to Enlightenment.
To practice other schools, one invariably relies on his own efforts. He has to eradicate all illusions and doubts in order to realize the truth. This is easier said than done. Actually, it is rather difficult to achieve such cultivation unless much hard work has been performed and there is considerable advancement.
One of the unique advantages of Amidism is that one may carry with him some of his evil karma when reborn in the Western Paradise, where he may rely on the power of Amitabha Buddha and Bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara and Mahathamaprapta, and together with other cultivated beings practice spiritual purification. Gradually, evil karma will disappear and attachments will vanish. He may move from one of the Four Realms  to the others; that is, from the realm of Mixed Habitation, the Expedient Realm, and then proceed to the Realm of Permanent Reward, and finally arrive at the Realm of Eternal Rest and Light, where he may see Buddha's reality. Progress is possible even for one with poor background and inadequate preparation. As for the person with superior background and preparation, no matter into which of the Buddha Lands he may be reborn, he will be able to perceive all Four Realms.
Another advantage of the Amidist approach is that as soon as one is reborn in the Western Paradise, there will be no retrogression to a lower spiritual level. He will never create any evil karma, and the work of self-cultivation will proceed until he finally becomes a Buddha who will, in turn, enlighten all sentient beings.
The approaches taken by other schools may be good too. They are not to be denigrated by anyone. Nevertheless, before one reaches the final destination aimed at by such approaches, there is always the possibility that he may fail or go amiss.
An illustration is found in the story of three Bodhisattvas: Asanga, Vasubandhu, and Samabodhi. At first, these three friends were of one accord and had the same goal--to study and practice Idealistic Contemplation and to be reborn into the Inner Court of Tushita Heaven and to see Bodhisattva Maitreya, the future Buddha. They agreed among themselves that if one of them reached that heaven, he would come back to inform the other two. Later, Samabodhi passed away. Three years elapsed, and he did not return. After three more years, Vasubandhu was about to pass away and Asanga was on his death bed.
"After you see Maitreya in heaven, by all means, come back and let me know," Asanga pleaded with him.
Vasubhandu, however, did return three years after his death.
Asanga asked him, "Why did it take so long for you to come back?"
Vasubandhu replied, "I arrived at the Inner Court of Tushita Heaven, sat there to listen to a sermon preached by Maitreya, then made three genuflections, took one lap of circumambulation and rushed back. Because the days and nights are much longer there than here, only a short time elapsed there while three years passed here in this world."
"Where is Samhabodhi? Why did he not return to notify us as agreed?" Asanga asked.
Vasubandhu replied, "He ascended to heaven. As he passed by the Outer Court of Tushita, he was caught and bound by the five desires before entering the Inner Court. He had not yet seen Maitreya until then."
Having heard this, Asanga realized the great danger of rebirth in heaven. He made a new vow that he wished to be reborn, not in heaven, but in the Western Paradise (See examples cited in the "Treatise on Ten Apprehensions against Pure Land" by Grand Master Chih Cheh).
Just imagine what danger there is when even Samabodhi, though already ranked among the greatest Bodhisattvas, was entwined and bound by the five desires in heaven!
Similarly, if one who practices meditation and serenity fails to transcend the Three Realms, he will finally descend to the appropriate state in accordance with karma after he has exhausted the enjoyment of heavenly bliss which is deserved no matter which one of the heavens is reached. Another example is to be found regarding the Bhiksu Wu Wen, who refused instruction as cited in the Surangama Sutra.
For Amidists, there are no such pitfalls. We have two lines in a verse expressing this idea: "Granted, that you may succeed through self-cultivation in reaching the Non-Unconceivable Heaven."
"It is not as good as returning to the Western Paradise."
This is to say that even after rebirth in the Non-Unconceivable Heaven, which is one of four Void Heavens, one will have to descend again when merits are exhausted. In contrast, it is much better to be reborn in the Western Paradise, even if reborn in the lowest level, for it is possible to gradually rise to the highest stage. Thus it is far better than rebirth in the Non-Unconceivable Heaven.
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