1991 佛七講話-1 Day 4
Ven. Zhiyu’s Dharma Talks for Buddha Recitation Seven-Day Retreat, First Term, 1991
Reciting Buddha’s Name Gains Four Merits
Reciting Buddha’s name gains four kinds of merits and virtues. The first one is to dispel karmic obstructions. It says in the Sutras that one purges deadly sins committed in the past 8 billion kalpas during his recitation of Buddha’s name. The second is to eradicate afflictions, which is the cause of karmic obstructions. The third is to be rid of delusive thoughts, which is the cause of afflictions. The fourth is to break ignorance, the cause of all delusive thoughts, afflictions and karmic obstructions.
All the Buddhist teachings, not just the calling on Buddha names, can let us remove karmic obstructions, eliminate afflictions, get rid of delusive thoughts and break ignorance. To distinguish Buddhism from non-Buddhism, you may inspect whether the teachings have these four kinds of merits and virtues.
How do we know these four gains are meritorious and virtuous? They are called merits if you yourself achieve them; they are called virtues if you persuade others to achieve them. Therefore, you may examine what you are learning to see whether it gives you these four benefits. If they do, they certainly conform to Buddhism.
A Buddhist practitioner will possess Spiritual Powers when he attains to a certain stage. However, there are people who do not endeavor but instead aim to win the various kinds of supernormal powers as the only purpose. Spiritual Powers, as you will see, cannot remove your karmic obstructions, nor can they eradicate afflictions, let alone delusive thoughts, and ultimately they cannot break ignorance. I don’t know why people want to seek for those abilities.
Spiritual Powers when attained by dharma practice are obtained as a matter of course, with no need of acquisition, and are different from the innate ones, which are not so valuable. For example, although ghosts possess Spiritual Powers, the heavenly beings such as devas and nāgas (dragons) will not protect them; they protect the Dharma instead. It is pitiful that you would pursue non-dharmas rather than the Buddhadharma. Were Spiritual Powers really that precious, devas and nāgas should protect ghosts rather than the Three Jewels.
Karmic obstructions, as well as afflictions, delusive thoughts and ignorance are all kinds of karmic suffering—suffering due to the bondage of karma. Affliction is also named perplexity; karma is volitional action that leads to suffering. Perplexity, karma and suffering thus form a cycle of continuity. Ignorance is the fundamental cause of every deed; delusive thought is the cause of affliction; affliction is the cause of karma. In a word, they are all bound up by karma, and therefore named karmic suffering.
Whatever you are learning will be useless if it does not help release you from karmic suffering. Not a kind of learning in the world has this function. Relying on worldly learning, even erudite scholars and great doctors cannot break away from karmic suffering; neither can those highly valued emperors and ministers get away from it. Therefore, we should learn the Buddhadharma.
In specific definition, karmic suffering is of innumerable kinds; in general, there are eight: birth, aging, sickness, death, separation from beloved ones and pleasant conditions, association with unpleasant persons and conditions, not getting what one desires, and the instability of the five aggregates of body and mind. Filled with these eight kinds of suffering, there is no happiness in this world.
Why is it that there is no happiness in this world? For the happiness we normally refer to in this world is so named as contrast to pain—that is, a situation is considered pleasant if it is less painful. Therefore suffering is also of three kinds, namely, suffering due to ordinary painful situations, suffering due to pleasant situations, and suffering due to neither-painful-nor-pleasant situations. In painful situations, one experiences ordinary suffering, in pleasant situations one experiences suffering from destruction or loss of the conditions, and in neither-painful-nor-pleasant situations, one endures suffering caused by change.
The World of Ultimate Bliss is totally different. In the Amitābha Sutra, it says that in that Buddha’s Land, there are not any kinds of suffering but only all kinds of happiness. In that land, happiness is not in relation to pain; it is ultimate bliss.
Although in general only karma is referred to as karma, afflictions, delusive thoughts, and ignorance are also karmas. Karma has its characteristic, as in the saying “cause-and-condition is the characteristic of karma”, and that means karmas all arise from causes and conditions. For example, afflictions, delusive thoughts, and ignorance are all subject to the law of cause-and-condition, and whatever arises from causes and conditions is empty. Therefore in the Heart Sutra it says, no ignorance, nor end of ignorance. For it is empty of substance in nature.
Some people would probably say: “Since it is empty of substance in nature, why the hell am I afraid to produce karma? Any karma I may produce is empty, and, as it goes in the sutras, sin, empty in nature, is only created by the mind. Therefore, were I to kill someone, I would not be condemned to the hell.”
Those people are deluded, for karma is empty in nature if you do not make it. As long as you start the action, there is the karma. Has it not been made clear to you? Sin, empty in nature, is only “created” by the mind! For example, you are not guilty of killing only if you do not kill. Were you to kill someone, you would become guilty; this is the law of cause-and-effect.
There are other people who would tell such a lie as “the sins I have made are empty, I am not afraid.” This is just like they would say, “My father has never committed a sexual intercourse.” It is totally a lie. Why not take a second thought: if your father had not committed a sexual relationship, how did you get your birth?
Karma is like this, so are affliction, delusive thought, and ignorance. It is empty in nature, but upon your volitional action it comes to be. Sentient beings in the emptiness produce karmas, suffer from the effects, and continue the cycle of birth and death, not knowing all of which is unreal; the holy men who have transcended the mundane world gradually eliminate them. Therefore, sentient beings are called the deluded beings, whereas holy men are the awakened ones.
Practitioners of the śrāvaka Vehicle (followers of the Buddha’s direct teachings) are no longer bound up by evil karmas, but they still have taintless karmas because they have not destroyed their ignorance; bodhisattvas no longer have taintless karmas, but they still have karmas from two extreme views because they discriminate rebirth and nirvana; only Buddha has eradicated all faults and possesses all virtues.
Therefore, everyone ought to understand that recalling the Buddha Amitābha’s name can make you remove your karmic obstructions, eliminate your afflictions, get rid of your delusive thoughts, destroy your ignorance, and eventually attain the Upmost Enlightenment.
All the Buddhist teachings have these merits. Every one of you should discern by your wisdom: whatever does not possess these four merits is not Buddhism and is useless to learn. Non-Buddhist teachings are of millions of kinds, which can only be identified through your wisdom.
A calling of Amitābha Buddha can destroy ignorance straight. As it says in the Sutras, in remembrance of the Buddha, make your mind the Buddha and your mind is the Buddha. Buddha is a great saint who has eradicated all faults and possesses all good qualities; He has completely destroyed ignorance.
Now in this seven-day retreat, did it ever occur to you that the moment you are reciting the Buddha name, you are removing your karmic obstructions, eliminating your afflictions, getting rid of your delusive thoughts, and breaking your ignorance? What a good deal—only by the four-word Buddha name!
Therefore, I hope every one of you do recite Amitābha Buddha sincerely. This is much more valuable than any worldly learning. In this world, no matter how great your learning is, it cannot make you remove your karmic obstructions, eliminate your afflictions, get rid of your delusive thoughts, and break your ignorance. In other words, peerless talent and learning in this world is not so good as a calling of Amitābha Buddha.
Now, let’s recite Amitābha Buddha!