Buddha Recitation Talk

by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, Monday, August 18, 1975 (afternoon)

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Today is the first full day of the Buddha Recitation Session. Those who have chanted the Buddha's name before know of its advantages. Those who have never recited before will not know what we are doing. "Namo, namo, namo--what?"

"Well, what is Amitabha anyway?"

A Buddha!

"But what are we doing? We recite while we sit, recite while we walk, recite while we stand, and even when we lie down to sleep our minds are still reciting.What use is it?"

I will tell you:

To bow in worship before the Buddhas
Eradicates offenses like the Ganges' sands.

If you just bow once before the Buddhas, you eradicate as much bad karma as there are grains of sand in the River Ganges.
You say, "As grains of sand in the River Ganges? Well, I've sung the Buddha's name so many times, certainly my offense-karma has been completely wiped away."
You should be aware that from limitless eons ago, from the time when you first became a human being until the present, your incarnations are uncountable. You yourself may not even believe that you have past, present, and future lives. In each life you were confused, muddled and unclear, and therefore, at present, you don't know how much bad karma you have amassed as a human being. There is reason to fear that the bad deeds you have committed in one single life exceed the number of sand grains in the Ganges. Although reciting the Buddha's name will eradicate offense-karma like the Ganges' sands, you don't know how much of it exists. Fortunately, our bad deeds have no material form. If they did, each individual's karma would completely fill empty space. That's the extent of your offenses! But, because karma has no material form, empty space has yet to be filled. So it says,

To bow in worship before the Buddhas
Eradicates offenses like the Gange's sands;
To give a single penny
Increases your blessings without limit.

In supporting the Bodhimanda, those with money give money. Those with strength give strength. Whether you give money or strength, the merit and virtue are the same, and they help you to plant good roots.

To recite the Buddha's name but once eradicates the grave offenses committed during ninety million eons of birth and death. In America, where the Buddha-dharma is new, you now have the rare good fortune to encounter this method. What's more, you've met with a Good Advisor, one who can teach you the method of Buddha Recitation. No one should casually waste this precious time. Be very conscientious, work hard at your recitation, and you will not have attended the session in vain.
Here we are bivouacked out-of-doors under the open sky, camping in the wilds and reciting the Buddha's name. When it rains we recite beneath this big tarp. When the rain stops we recite while walking on a circular track. This is truly an excellent method! We have not come to the pure mountain land for sport or recreation, but only to recite the Buddha's name. this is truly a subtle, wonderful, and inconceivable environment. There are no sounds at all. It's not like San Francisco with its cars, buses, trolleys and planes
going, "rrrrrrrrr! rrrrrrrrr!"--all making a tremendous din. It's very natural here, and perfect for Buddha Recitation. So all of you take care not to waste this precious time.

Deep in the mountains the air is fresh and there is not the slightest trace of pollution. The Five Turbid Evil Worlds--the Turbidity of the Eon, the Turbidity of Views, the Turbidity of Living Beings, the Turbidity of Afflictions, and the Turbidity of the Lifespan--exist in places crowded with people. This wilderness, by contrast, is the clear, pure Land of Ultimate Bliss. IF you can cultivate in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss, the power of the response of the Way will be completely different from that of the noisy bustle of the city. Here, it is easy to enter samadhi, to gain concentration, to obtain the Buddha Recitation samadhi.
As you recite the Buddha's name:

Every sound of the Buddha's name
is a sound of purity;
When every sound is recitation,
each thought is clear and pure.
When every thought is clear and pure
you obtain the Buddha Recitation samadhi.

As it is said,

One pure thought
is one thought of the Buddha.
When every thought is pure,
every thought is of the Buddha.

Beside us runs a small river, and the sparkling water recites the Buddha's name. As you listen to it, it says, "Namo Amitabha Buddha." The blowing wind also recites the Buddha's name, proclaiming the wonderful Mahayana Dharma. This state is the same as that in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. In the Land of Ultimate Bliss:

The water flows, the wind blows
Proclaiming the Mahayana;
In the pools of seven jewels
Are flowers of every color
And waves of solid gold.

The lotuses which bloom in the pools made of the seven jewels are green-colored of green light, yellow-colored of yellow light, red-colored of red light, white-colored of white light. Green, yellow, red, and white, the lights shine brightly.

You say, "Dharma Master, you have been explaining Buddha Recitation for quite a while now, but ultimately what is this 'namo, namo' all about? Namo what?"
"Namo" yourself! Don't "namo" anyone else. Think of it this way, "I have such good roots that I have learned to recite the Buddha's name!"
"Namo" means "to return my life and respectfully submit." This means to return your body, heart, and life and respectfully bow before Amitabha Buddha. Say to yourself, "I take my body, heart, and life and return in refuge to Amitabha Buddha."
You ask, "Well, if namo means to return the life and respectfully submit, what does 'Amitabha' mean?
Can you explain that?"
"Of course I can. Don't be nervous. I'll tell you in due time. If I don't finish this time, I'll continue next time. And if I don't finish next time, I'll continue later on. Don't worry. I am determined to teach you what "Namo Amitabha Buddha" is all about.

"Namo Amitabha" is Sanskrit. "Buddha" is also Sanskrit. "Amitabha" means "limitless light." Amitabha's other name, "Amitayus" means "limitless life." When you recite the Buddha's name, you obtain a limitless lifespan. Because you return your life and respectfully submit to the Buddha of Limitless Life, you may take the merit and virtue you obtain by reciting and live as long as you please!

If you say, "I want to live to be ninety-nine years old," then you will certainly not depart at age eighty-eight. You will live to be ninety-nine.
You say, "But I want to live to be a hundred!"

You can do that, too. All you need to do is recite the Buddha's name sincerely. This includes all of us gathered here today. I will now make a prediction: Those among you who want to live to a very old age will certainly get to do so. Not everyone, mind you, but only those who are sincere. Whoever recites sincerely will obtain that response and get his wish.
"Amitabha" means "limitless light." The limitless light is the light of wisdom, the opening of wisdom. Whoever recites well can develop great wisdom and a faultless memory. There's no question about it. "Amitayus" means "limitless life" and "Amitabha" means :limitless light."
The word "Buddha" is also Sanskrit. When I first heard the word "Buddha," it sounded like the Chinese phrase "bu da" which means, "not big." So I explain the term as meaning "not big."

With neither great nor small,
With neither come nor gone,
In numberless world systems
Buddhas shine light upon each other's
lotus thrones.

The Buddha is not any bigger than we people are. Rather, he is just the same size. However, he has become enlightened and returned to his inherent wisdom. We are no smaller than the Buddha, and the Buddha is no smaller than we are. But, because our hearts are not pure, because we have not discovered our inherent wisdom or developed great wisdom, we are still common people.

The Buddha: One who is enlightened.
The living being: One who is confused.
When enlightened, one is a Buddha.
When confused, on is a living being.

To become enlightened is to become a Buddha. Before enlightenment one is just a living being. When you become enlightened you gain nothing that the living being doesn't have. When confused, one hasn't anything less than the Buddha has. There is no increasing and no decreasing; it's a question of whether you are confused or enlightened. That's where the difference lies.
I will illustrate this with a very simple analogy. Mind you, this is just an analogy. Don't take it literally, because it's all hypothetical. The Buddha is like a university professor--university professors are not Buddhas--you should be clear about that point --and living beings are like students. Every student can become a professor. Every professor can become a student. The Buddha is, however, wiser than professors.
He's even higher than a professor! Remember, this is a mere analogy which demonstrates that the Buddha and people are the same.

"Then why should I chant the Buddha's name? Why doesn't the Buddha recite my name?" you wonder, "Why should I recite 'Namo Amitabha Buddha?' Why doesn't Amitabha Buddha recite me, Tim Testu? Why doesn't he recite my name, 'Testu, the Great?'" That's a good question. In fact, it's got me stumped. I don't know how to answer it, but I'll think up something: Ah! I know! It's because you never made a vow to cause living beings to recite your name. The Buddha Amitabha in the causal ground was a Bhikshu named Dharma Treasury, and he made forty-eight great vows. In every vow he said, "In the future, when my cultivation succeeds and I have become a Buddha, my country will be one of ultimate bliss and purity. The murkiness of the Five Turbidities will not exist in it.

All living beings in the ten directions who recite my name will be led to rebirth in my land, where they may realize Buddhahood. As long as one of them has not become a Buddha, I will not accomplish the right enlightenment." Because of the power of the vows of Amitabha Buddha we have gathered here to recite--with different mouths but with the same sound--"Namo Amitabha Buddha." We are cultivating by relying on the power of the vows of Amitabha Buddha. When we recite the Buddha's name, Amitabha Buddha knows about it. "Hey, I signed a contract with that living being saying that if he kept my name in mind I would teach him to become a Buddha. If I don't guide him to Buddhahood now, the contract is nothing but a lie." And the Buddha hurries right over to guide you to Buddhahood.

Someone says, "But the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss is so far away--hundreds of thousands of millions of Buddhalands--how can I go there? Can I take a plane? How much will the ticket cost? How much is the bus fare? Could I drive myself?"
Don't worry about that. You can arrive in a single thought. You don't have to buy any tickets at all. In a single thought you can be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. Hundreds of thousands of millions of Buddhalands are not beyond that one single thought.

We now recite "Namo Amitabha Buddha" and there is nothing more important than this work. Don't you see?
Last night it was raining and today the sky is clear. In a moment you are all going to make a vow to stop the rain. The rain has got to stop because we are working hard here at out cultivation. I myself don't have the strength, but if you collectively say, "IT IS NOT ALLOWED TO RAIN!..." For these few days while we are cultivating, the least response we can expect is a clear sky. Otherwise, it will be pitch dark at night, and the paths are very muddy. The men don't know this, but the women are really roughing it over there, sleeping in the barn. They have to cross the river, and it is never certain whether they are going to cross the water or whether the water is going to cross them. But I'll tell you:

When you're confused,
the teacher takes you across.
When you're enlightened,
you take yourself across.

When you become enlightened you take yourself across; you carry your own flashlight.At just this moment Kuo Hang has struck up a false thought. He wants to run into the mountains to live. Isn't that right, Kuo Hang?
Kuo Hang: Yes...

But you have to open your eyes. If you keep your eyes shut, even if you have a flashlight, it will be useless. You'll fall down anyway. If it doesn't rain, that proves you are all sincere. If it does rain, that will prove that you are not sincere. It has nothing whatever to do with me. It's none of my business. The rain is you business.

(Remarks after the first hour-long evening meditation:)
Since you've been sitting for a long time, if you like you may stretch a bit, but don't get in anyone else's way. You'll notice some people from Gold Mountain are able to enter the sleeping samadhi, because they sleep sitting up every night and so every time they sit down, they nod out. The people who just arrived couldn't do this.

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