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Worship involves respect and surrender. You must respect your True Nature. You must make ignorance surrender.
When your body, speech and mind are pure, "Buddha appears in this world."
Chanting with the mouth is called "recitation," while chanting with the mind is called "reflecting on the Buddha." To merely recite a chant without awareness does not benefit one’s practice.
The Dharma Gate of the six syllables "Na-mu-a-mi-ta-bul"84 is a short-cut approach that can definitely lead you out of the cycle of transmigration. When you chant, your mind should be directed towards the realm of the Buddha. In your thoughts, you should maintain the chanting without falling into forgetfulness. With your mouth, you should chant the Buddha’s name distinctly and not let your voice become sloppy. If you do this, your mind and your voice will come together. This is the meaning of "chanting the Buddha’s name."
The Fifth Patriarch once said, "Keeping your original, True Mind is better than reflecting on all of the Buddhas of the Ten Directions." The Sixth Patriarch once said, "Even if you constantly reflect on other Buddhas, you will not be able to avoid life and death. But if you keep your Original Mind, you can reach the other shore." He also said, "The Buddha arises from within your Original Mind. You should not look for the Buddha outside yourself." He also said, "Deluded men chant in order to obtain a good rebirth. Wise men purify their minds through their own efforts." He also said, "All sentient beings save themselves when they awaken. The Buddha cannot save sentient beings."
The worthies in the above passages all directly point at the Original Mind. There is no other method. This holds true at the level of ultimate reality; however, in the phenomenal realm, paradise and Amitabha Buddha with his forty-eight vows, really exist. So anyone who recites Amitabha’s name just ten times will ascend with the power of Amitabha’s vows and be reborn on a lotus leaf. In this realm, he will soon break free from the wheel of transmigration. All the Buddhas of the Three Dimensions of time say that this is so. The Bodhisattvas of the Ten Directions85 all vow to be reborn there. In addition, the records describing all of those who have been reborn there in the past or present have been transmitted accurately. All of you practitioners who have made a vow to be reborn there should beware of mistaken views. You must be diligent!
The Sanskrit "Amita" means "unlimited life-span" or "unlimited brilliance." It is the name of the most excellent Buddha throughout the Ten Directions and the Three Dimensions86 of time. When this Buddha was practicing, he was called Dharmakara. He made forty-eight vows in front of Lokesvararaja Buddha. He said, "When I become a Buddha, if any deva or human being — or even the smallest insect — residing in any of the myriad worlds in any of the Ten Directions chants my name just ten times, I will cause that being to be reborn in my realm. For, until I am able to fulfill my vow, I will not enter Buddhahood." The sages of the past used to say, "Each time one praises the Buddha, the demons lose their courage. In addition, one’s name is removed from the register in hell, as a lotus flower87 blooms in a golden pond." It has also been said in the Dharma of Repentance, "There is your own power and the power of others. The former is slow, whereas the latter is fast. It is like a man who wants to cross the sea. If he plants trees for timber to make a boat, it will take a long time. This is like using your own power. But if he borrows someone else’s boat and crosses the sea, he will get there fast. This is like the power of the Buddha." It has also been said, "If a child approaches water or fire and then yells, his parents, hearing his shout, come quickly to save him from danger. It is the same with a man on his death bed who shouts the Buddha’s name. The Buddha, who is in possession of mysterious powers, will definitely come and greet such a person. In this sense, the compassion of the great sages surpasses that of parents. Moreover, sentient beings’ birth and death is much more dangerous than water and fire."
There are those who say, "The mind is the Pure Land. You cannot be ’born’ in the Pure Land. Your Self Nature is Amitabha Buddha. There is no other Amitabha to meet with." These words seem to be correct, but in fact they are not. Amitabha Buddha has no desire or hatred. Do we likewise have no desire and hatred? The Buddha transforms hell into lotus flowers as easily as you might turn your hand over. Yet, we are constantly afraid of falling into hellthrough the force of our own karma; we certainly could not even consider transforming hell into lotus flowers. Amitabha Buddha observes infinite worlds as if they were right in front of his eyes. For us, even the things happening right outside our wall cannot be seen, let alone the worlds in all the Ten Directions. Therefore, man’s nature may be Buddha but his actions are characteristic of a sentient being. If we discuss both character and function, they are as far from each other as the sky and the earth.
Master Kuei-feng88 once said, "Even though you actually awaken suddenly; in the end, you must cultivate gradually." These words are true indeed!
Then, what could we say to someone who insists that this Self Nature is Amitabha Buddha? How is it that Sakyamuni was born with his fine endowments? How is it that one like Amitabha Buddha appeared through spontaneous birth? If you think about it, you cannot help but understand. When you are on your death bed, suffering and on the verge of death, are you confident that you will be completely free? If you aren’t, then you should do something to avoid falling into some long-lasting torment as a result of a moment’s pride.
Even Asvaghosa and Nagarjuna, both of them patriarchs, clearly bestowed upon us their words and teachings which strongly advocated working for a good incarnation in the next life. Who am I to say that one should not concern oneself with the next life? Even the Buddha himself said, "The Western Paradise is far from here. One must pass through 180,000 worlds to get there." This is an explanation of characteristics for the sake of those with dull faculties. "The Western Paradise is not far from here. This very mind/sentient being is the Buddha/Amitabha Buddha." This is an explanation of the Self Nature for the sake of those with "sharp faculties." The teachings consist of both the provisional and the actual. Speech has an exoteric and an esoteric aspect. One whose understanding and actions are in agreement can penetrate both what is near and what is far. Consequently, the School of the Patriarchs has those, like Hui-yuan,89 who called out to the Amitabha Buddha and those, like Jui-yen,90 who called out to his own self.
If one listens to sutras, one develops an affinity for the Dharma. This affinity leads to joy and good fortune. This body, like a bubble, soon comes to an end. But actions that accord with truth never die.
The above paragraph explains wise practice. It is like eating a diamond. It brings more merit than it would were you to give the seven kinds of precious jewels.
Seon Master Yung-ming,91 Second Patriarch of the Fa-yen House, once said, "Even if you listen without faith, a Buddhist seed has still been planted. Even though you fail to realize that which you have learned, you have still attained merit leading you to rebirth as a human or a deva."
If you look at sutras but do not look at your own mind and put the words of the sutras into practice, you may read the entire Buddhist Canon and it still would not do you a bit of good.
The above paragraph explains foolish practice. Such practice is as pointless as the birds’ chirping all day in spring or the insects’ buzzing all night in autumn. Kuei-feng92 once said, "Knowing Chinese characters and reading sutras, from the very onset, cannot attain realization or awakening. Analyzing texts in order to figure out their meaning merely ignites more greed, anger and false views."
Using fine speech to defeat others in argument while you still have not reached the end of the path is like decorating an outhouse.
The above paragraph particularly deals with the foolish practice of people during the last days of the Dharma. Practice originally means to cultivate one’s True Nature. Yet, many practice in order to show off to others. What could they be thinking?
For those who have left the householder’s life, studying secular writings is like cutting mud with a knife. Mud is a useless material; moreover, it damages the knife.
The son of the rich man outside the gate
Comes back into the burning house.93
How could leaving home to become a monk be a small matter? Such a life is not for those seeking a life of ease, nor is it for those seeking warm clothes and food, nor is it for those looking for fame and riches. The monastic life is for those who want to put an end to life and death, and eradicate all mental defilements. It is for those who want to maintain the transmission of the Buddha’s wisdom. And it is for those who endeavor to transcend the Three Realms and ferry across sentient beings.
Such an one94 can be called "a great man who pierces the sky."
The Buddha said, "The fire of impermanence is burning the world." He said, "The fire of suffering surrounds sentient beings." He also said, "The thief of mental defilements is always looking for a chance to slay you." A Man of the Way should wake up to these words as if his own head were on fire.
The body is subject to birth, old age, disease and death. The universe forms, abides for some time, destructs and then becomes nothingness. Mental states arise, abide, change, and then disappear. This shows that the fire of impermanence and suffering burns on all four sides of us. Men of depth who are sincere in your practice — do not pass your time in vain!
One who desires fame in this world is like one who strives to inflict pain on his own body. To search for worldly gain is to add firewood to one’s own karmic fire.
There is a poem about “one who desires fame in this world.”
The stork flies to the sky’s end
But its tracks remain in the sand.
A man goes to the Yellow Spring95
But his name stays with his family.
There is also a poem about “searching for worldly gain.”
The bees have gathered the nectar from a hundred flowers.
Who is this person who has not experienced toil or pain,
And yet tastes the sweet honey?
“To senselessly inflict pain on one’s own body” is as useless as it would be to make a sculpture out of ice. “To add firewood to one’s own karma” refers to the fact that make-up and perfumes only serve to ignite the fires of passion.96