Master Chin KungLily delimiterTalksLily delimiterILSE verses 6~10

Lecture Notes on the Essence of the Infinite Life Sutra

by Venerable Master Chin Kung


6. To all living beings they were friends, [who would help] without being asked.


When teaching all beings, the bodhisattvas have this vow of compassion: on their own accord, they become good friends to all beings. When we emulate the bodhisattvas, we should learn to perceive the suitable way and the right time to teach a being. If we do not help this being when the condition is mature, then we would be failing the being. By helping the being when the condition has not matured, we are courting a rebuff.

Every being is different in capacity; additionally, the condition for learning Buddhism is not the same for every being. If a being likes Zen meditation, let the being sincerely cultivate Zen meditation. If a being likes to recite mantras, let the being do so respectfully. All methods are equal, and no one method is superior or inferior to another. To accommodate people with different capacities, the Buddha taught many methods. If a method could help every being, then there would be no need for Sakyamuni Buddha to teach all these methods.

We Pure Land practitioners cannot make people practice the Pure Land method. When someone’s condition has matured, we should voluntarily introduce Buddhism to help the person. There are many stages in learning Buddhism. As the person gradually advances in practice, he or she will naturally find the most direct route—the wondrous Pure Land method. Therefore, to help all beings skillfully and expediently, we should be patient.


7. Great compassion arose from these bodhisattvas. They empathized with all sentient beings. With a heart of compassion, they lectured on the teachings, taught by example, and also imparted the Dharma Eyes. They blocked all evil paths and opened the door of virtuousness. They regarded all beings as themselves. They rescued and helped living beings and shouldered the burden of helping them all cross over to the other shore.


“Arose” means came forth. The words “taught by example” means to demonstrate through behavior. “Lectured on” means to speak the Dharma. Not only did the bodhisattvas teach with words, but they also taught by example. In “imparted the Dharma Eyes,” “imparted” means to pass on, “Dharma” means method of practice, and “Eyes” is a metaphor. This metaphor refers to helping others understand the truth of all phenomena and principles.

In “blocked all evil paths,” “blocked” means to prevent and be on guard and “evil paths” means the Bad Realms. “The door of virtuousness” means, simply put, the virtuous teachings that enable one to be reborn in the human or heavenly path.


Sentient beings are deluded. They indulge in the Five Desires8 and the Six Dusts9 —in worldly pleasures. We should generate a mind of great compassion, empathize with sentient beings, and introduce the Pure Land method to them. Compassion and empathy must be put into action. This is enthusiastically propagating the Pure Land method. With all our hearts we must do our best—we must treat this task as the most important thing in this lifetime.


“With a heart of compassion, they lectured on the teachings, taught by example, and also imparted the Dharma Eyes. They blocked all evil paths and opened the door of virtuousness.” These sentences describe the method of teaching. We do not need to be onstage to expound on Buddhism, but we should do so whenever and wherever we encounter someone. We introduce Buddhism to that person in a way that is most suitable for that person. If he or she cannot accept Buddhism at all, simply say “Namo Amituofo.” As time goes by and the person gradually understands, that person will also say “Namo Amituofo” the next time we meet. In this way, we will have accomplished our goal. This is just one of many ways.


For example, a practitioner is always happy and healthy, something everyone very much envies. If we are truly healthy and happy, others will surely ask us, “Why are you always happy?” We tell them, “Because I mindfully chant the Buddha-name.” Practicing Buddha-name chanting will lead to true happiness and good health. If they feel happy in listening to our explanation, then we are making good use of the opportunity to teach them. “Taught by example” refers to us living a happy, satisfied, and joyful life. This is a good signboard for the Buddha’s teaching. When people see this, they will like it and will want this happiness for themselves. Hence, they will want to learn Buddhism.


How does one avoid falling into the evil paths? If one does not create evil karmas, naturally one will not fall into the evil paths. Evil paths are due mainly to evil thoughts—evil thought is the cause. Evil conduct is unvirtuous karma and bad retributions will surely follow. The law of cause and effect never fails.

If we do not want to have any bad retributions, we should not have any bad thoughts. With pure and proper thoughts, we will definitely not have any bad retributions.


The words “opened the door of virtuousness” mean urging people to end wrongdoings and to practice virtuous conduct. When people end wrongdoings and practice virtuous conduct, the benefit will go to them; the benefit does not involve us. Those who do this will receive the benefit. It is not that others practice and we benefit. Definitely, when we practice we benefit. When this happens, we are proving to others that good rewards come from ending wrongdoings and practicing virtuous conduct.


There are people who become scared when we tell them about transcending the Three Realms10 and attaining Buddhahood. But they get happy when we talk about them becoming immensely rich and important in their next lifetime. When we encounter such people, we should teach them the methods of being born as a human or a heavenly being.

There are also people who have great aspirations. They know that the Three Realms are filled with sufferings, and that even in the heavenly path—where good fortune is great and the life span is long—the heavenly beings will still die one day. For these people with great aspirations, their wish is to transcend the Three Realms. We should teach them the methods of transcending the Three Realms. This is a door of great virtuousness.


Frankly, the only method of practice that allows one to succeed in one lifetime is the Buddha-name chanting method. In all my forty-plus years of learning Buddhism, this is what I have realized. The Buddha-name chanting method is truly wondrous. If we introduce it to others, we are opening the door of utmost virtuousness. Nothing is more virtuous than this.


“They regarded all beings as themselves. They rescued and helped living beings and shouldered the burden of helping them all cross over to the other shore.” When we treat others like we would treat ourselves, that is, with no difference whatsoever, it is “unconditional compassion for all others as we are all one entity” as taught in Mahayana Buddhism. We should treat all impartially. As long as a person accepts our help, we should wholeheartedly help this person.

Buddhist practitioners should have this vow: help all beings far and wide, uphold the proper teachings, and pass on the Buddha’s wisdom to future generations.


8. The Thus Come One commiserates with the beings in the Three Realms with infinite great compassion. This is why he appears in the world: to expound Buddhist teachings and spread them everywhere, like light; to help all beings; and to bring true benefit to them.


“Light” has the meaning of reaching places far and wide. “Expound” means to teach and to propagate. “Buddhist teachings” refers to the way to transcend life and death and to perfectly attain Buddhahood. “Help” means to save and to rescue. “True benefit” refers to fulfilling the wishes of all beings.


This excerpt explains the reason why the Buddha came to this world. Why did he appear in India and not in China? Although Chinese culture had already existed for a long time, the highest aspiration of the Chinese was to be reborn in the heavens. They did not have the thought of transcending the Three Realms. For rebirth in the human or heavenly paths, Confucian teachings and Taoist teachings were sufficient. Therefore, the Buddha did not need to go there.


At the time in India when Sakyamuni Buddha appeared, many religions were flourishing. The sutras mentioned six major non-Buddhist masters. The practitioners of Brahmanism, the Yoga system, and Samkhya were able to attain very high levels of meditative concentration: they were able to be reborn in the Fourth Formless Heaven, a feat that the Chinese had not been able to accomplish. Frankly, when the Chinese were reborn in the heavens, they could only get to the heavens in the Desire Realm. They could not get to the heavens in the Form Realm.

Indians could be reborn in the heavens in the Form Realm and even in the Formless Realm, but they could not transcend them. They thought that the Fourth Meditation Heaven or the Fourth Formless Heaven was the state of nirvana. It was a great misconception.

Therefore, at that time, only the people in India, out of all the people in the world, had the right capacities and mature conditions. The Buddha “commiserated with the beings in the Three Realms” and appeared there to help them transcend the Six Paths and attain the true Bodhi and nirvana.


The Buddha was impartial. When the condition of the beings in a place was mature, he would use the most appropriate method to teach them. As stated in “Universal Door Chapter”:11 “For those who will only be liberated upon the manifestation of a Buddha, then the manifestation in the form of a Buddha will appear to present the teachings.” In India, they needed a Buddha to teach them and in China, they needed a bodhisattva. The manifestations were different but the objective was the same. The objective was “to help all beings; and to bring true benefit to them.”


If a person wants to be reborn in the heavens, the Buddha will teach the method to that person, and he or she will be truly reborn there. This is bringing true benefit to that person.


The absolutely perfect, true benefit is attaining Buddhahood. Becoming a Bodhisattva of Equal Enlightenment is not yet ultimate and perfect. The Infinite Life Sutra teaches us the method of seeking rebirth in the Western Pure Land through belief, vow, and mindful Buddha-name chanting. It is the ultimate and perfect true benefit.

As mentioned in the three Pure Land sutras, we can perfectly accomplish the goal of rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss in one lifetime—without waiting until the next lifetime. There, in the four lands, each with nine grades, the environment as well as all the beings are wondrously magnificent.

The teaching of Sakyamuni Buddha at this Dharma assembly is absolutely true. The Buddha mentioned “true” three times in this sutra. It is very rare for the word “true” to be mentioned three times in a sutra.


9. May I attain the pure sound of a Buddha and may my Dharma voice spread everywhere limitlessly, propagating the teachings of precept observation, meditative concentration, and diligence. May I thoroughly understand the profound, wonderful Dharma. May my wisdom be as vast and as deep as the sea. May my mind be pure, void of dust and toil. May I transcend boundless doors of the evil paths and quickly reach the shore of ultimate enlightenment. May I be forever free of greed, anger, and ignorance, and with the power of samadhi end all delusions and faults.


“May I attain the pure sound of a Buddha and may my Dharma voice spread everywhere limitlessly.” This is a magnificent vow of Amitabha Buddha. The purpose of being a Buddha is to universally help all beings. This is done by lecturing on the Dharma. This verse is even clearer than what Master Huineng said in the Platform Sutra, as it reveals the purpose of becoming a Buddha. We Buddhist practitioners should aspire to this.

We bring nothing with us at birth and we take nothing with us at death. Not fame, nor prestige, nor wealth, nor gain. If every day we wish for them, it would be very foolish of us. As the Diamond Sutra says: “All phenomena are illusory.” It also says: “All conditioned existences are like a dream, an illusion, a bubble, or a shadow.”

Therefore, we should constantly think about spreading the Dharma and benefiting all beings throughout all the Dharma Realms. This way, we will be of the same mind, the same vow, and the same practice as all Buddhas without realizing it. We will definitely attain Buddhahood!


The words “propagating the teachings of precept observation, meditative concentration, and diligence” refer to the Six Paramitas that bodhisattvas cultivate, which are giving, precept observation, patience, diligence, meditative concentration, and prajna wisdom.

But only precept observation, meditative concentration, and diligence are listed here. They refer to the Six Paramitas, which are the practice of Mahayana bodhisattvas. If precept observation, meditative concentration, and wisdom were listed here, then they refer to the Three Learnings.


The words “thoroughly understand the profound, wonderful Dharma” mean “enlightening the mind and seeing the true nature,” as taught in Mahayana Buddhism. If one cannot thoroughly understand the profound, wonderful Dharma, one will not be able to help all beings extensively.

In this sutra, the sense of these words is more thorough, more complete. Based on the principles, method, and level of practice taught in this sutra, we can see that the profound, wonderful Dharma refers to this wondrous teaching of the Pure Land school: “This mind is Buddha, and this mind becomes Buddha. Enlighten the mind and reach the original nature. Mindfully chant the Buddha-name, attain rebirth in the Western Pure Land, and, without retrogression, attain Buddhahood.” This teaching is not found in any other Mahayana sutra. The words “the profound, wonderful Dharma” convey this meaning specifically.

The forty-eight vows open up the supreme Dharma door for us—this is completely the state of Tathagata at the attainment stage. This Dharma door teaches us to mindfully chant the Buddha-name and attain rebirth in the Western Pure Land. This is taking [Amitabha Buddha’s] rewards and making them our causes. Great Master Ouyi said that the sentient beings in the Nine Dharma Realms (bodhisattvas, sound-hearers, pratyekabuddhas, and the beings in the Six Paths) who rely on themselves alone cannot understand this. That is why this is “the profound, wonderful Dharma.”


The Avatamsaka Sutra and the Lotus Sutra are both wonderful Dharma. But when they are compared with the Infinite Life Sutra, the latter is number one. Therefore, the Infinite Life Sutra is “the profound, wonderful Dharma.” It is not hard to believe the teaching in the Avatamsaka Sutra and the Lotus Sutra, but it is hard to believe the teaching in the Infinite Life Sutra, which is the most hard-to-believe method. Therefore, if we introduce the Infinite Life Sutra to others, it is quite normal that they will not believe it. If a person believes it when we introduce it to them, this person is not an ordinary person. As stated in the Infinite Life Sutra, this is a bodhisattva who has manifested as a human being; he or she is not an ordinary person.


“May my wisdom be as vast and as deep as the sea.” To widely help all beings, one must first help oneself. To help others achieve in their practice, one must first achieve perfect wisdom. In this way, one will have the ability to help others. After stating the great vow of helping others, Dharmakara Bhiksu said that he then sought deep, vast wisdom. This deep, vast wisdom is innate in the true nature, not attained from the outside. How does one attain profound wisdom? The next sentence tells us the method.


“May my mind be pure, void of dust and toil.” “Dust” refers to pollutants: when something is tainted with dust, it gets dirty. “Toil” refers to afflictions. In order to restore a pure mind, we must stay far away from all pollutants and eradicate afflictions.


“May my wisdom be as vast and as deep as the sea. May my mind be pure, void of dust and toil.” The two sentences complement each other. Because they complement each other, boundless Dharma bliss will arise. The more one achieves in practice, the more wisdom one will have. The more wisdom one has, the deeper is one’s belief and thus the more one will achieve in practice. As one achieves more in practice, one will have even more wisdom. This is how meditative concentration and wisdom complement each other perpetually. When one practices this way, one will transcend all evil paths.


“May I transcend boundless doors of the evil paths.” The cause to achieve this is cultivation of a pure mind. Once the mind is pure, all obstacles that prevent us from obtaining good fruits from our cultivation will be eliminated, and one will stay away from the evil paths. When one is free of anger, one will transcend the door of hells. When one is free of ignorance, one will transcend the door of animals. When one is free of greed and miserliness, one will transcend the door of hungry ghosts. Therefore, when one eradicates greed, anger, and ignorance, one will transcend the Three Evil Paths. And if one does not have the slightest yearning for the good fortune in the human and heavenly paths, one will transcend the Six Paths.

The sentence in the excerpt is also a statement of comparisons. When the path of hungry ghosts is compared with the path of hells, the path of hungry ghosts is good and the path of hells is bad. When the path of animals is compared with the path of hungry ghosts, the path of animals is good and the path of hungry ghosts is bad. When the realm of arhats and pratyekabuddhas of the Theravada tradition is compared with that of Mahasattvas, the realm of arhats and pratyekabuddhas is bad and the realm of Mahasattvas is good. When the realm of bodhisattvas is compared with that of Buddhas, the realm of bodhisattvas is bad and the realm of Buddhas is good. Therefore, “boundless doors of the evil paths” also encompasses the realms of sound-hearers, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas. Only when one perfectly attains Buddhahood will one transcend the evil paths.


In “quickly reach the shore of ultimate enlightenment,” the words “shore of ultimate enlightenment” refer to perfect and complete Buddhahood. In other words, “boundless doors of the evil paths” means that the path of the bodhisattvas of the Provisional Teaching and all the paths below are bad paths. Therefore, the bad paths include not only the Six Paths but also the realms of sound-hearers, pratyekabuddhas, and the bodhisattvas of the Provisional Teaching.


“Forever free of greed, anger, and ignorance” is saying that the three kinds of affliction—Affliction of Views and Thoughts, Affliction of Dust and Sand, and Affliction of Ignorance12 —are completely eradicated. This is the state of Tathagata at the attainment stage.


The words “with the power of samadhi end all delusions and faults” are saying that one is no longer deluded about anything in this world and beyond. Whether cultivating, teaching, interacting with people, or engaging in tasks, one will definitely not commit wrongdoings. How does one achieve this? With the power of samadhi. “Samadhi” used here refers to the Buddha-name Chanting Samadhi.


The last few sentences [starting from “May my wisdom be as vast and as deep as the sea”] were Amitabha Buddha’s guidelines for learning and practice when he was at the causal stage. Compare our practice to that of Amitabha Buddha at the causal stage. Do we also seek wisdom as our ultimate goal and seek nothing else?


If one seeks wisdom, one must achieve a pure mind. When one has a pure mind, wisdom manifests. A pure mind is like a mirror. Its function is to see everything clearly in its reflection. This [seeing everything clearly] is having wisdom. If one wants to have a pure mind, one’s mind must not be contaminated even in the slightest way—by mundane teachings (the Five Desires and the Six Dusts) or by supramundane teachings (that is, Mahayana, Theravada, True Teachings, or Provisional Teachings). This is very important. One must try to have a mind of the utmost purity, and speech and behavior of the utmost virtuousness.


There are two approaches in learning Buddhism. The first is practice—here one starts with cultivating a pure mind. The other is understanding—here one studies the teachings. Which approach is more advantageous? Practice. As long as one has a pure mind, it does not matter that one has no knowledge of Buddhism. If one eradicates affliction, then the mind is pure and the Buddha Land will also be pure. One will be able to attain rebirth in the Western Pure Land.

If one uses the approach of understanding, after one is clear about all the principles, methods, and states, one still needs to practice, starting from the basics. One cannot achieve in one’s cultivation with only knowledge and no practice. When one uses the approach of practice, one mainly cultivates mindfulness; understanding of the teachings is supplementary. One need not make painstaking effort to seek understanding—it will come naturally. Practice is the correct approach. If one uses this approach, whether one reads the sutras or listens to lectures, one will benefit from each particular sentence that one understands. If one does not understand a sentence, it does not matter, as one will understand it when one listens to the lectures again. One will naturally understand after listening to lectures a few times. One need not get stuck on a sentence or a paragraph; otherwise, one’s mind will become disturbed.


In the title of this sutra are the words “purity, impartiality, and enlightenment.” These three are one in three and three in one. When we attain one, we attain all three. Of the three, cultivating a pure mind is the easiest. The way to cultivate a pure mind is to mindfully chant the Buddha-name. When we are not chanting the Buddha-name, we should listen to the chanting of the Buddha-name. It is best if we can listen to our own chanting. So, we could record our chanting, and when we are not chanting, listen to this recording. This is very effective. This is cultivating a pure mind.


[In the part of the excerpt that talks about Dharmakara Bhiksu’s practice for his own enlightenment,] Dharmakara Bhiksu put wisdom as his first priority and the result of his practice is this: with the power of samadhi he ended all delusions and faults. [This samadhi places] equal emphasis on both meditative concentration and wisdom. The purpose [of Dharmakara practicing this way] is tremendously profound. It truly provides a very valuable reference for our learning practice.


10. I will constantly practice the Six Paramitas of giving, precept observation, patience, diligence, meditative concentration, and wisdom. For those sentient beings who are not yet awakened, I will help them attain awakening. For those who are awakened, I will help them attain Buddhahood. Rather than make offerings to sages as countless as the Ganges sands, I would perseveringly and courageously seek proper enlightenment.


The statement “I will constantly practice the Six Paramitas of giving, precept observation, patience, diligence, meditative concentration, and wisdom” describes the conduct of bodhisattvas in this world. In other words, it is the standard for their mindset and practice. We should learn this.


“Giving” is letting go—letting go of everything in this world. All the afflictions, even illnesses, birth and death, and the root cause of transmigration come about because one is unwilling to let go of wandering thoughts and attachments. One truly reaps the fruit of one’s actions. The purpose of giving is to help one let go of one’s concerns, worries, afflictions, wandering thoughts, discriminations, and attachments.


Many people think that they are walking the bodhisattva path, practicing giving and making offerings everywhere. But their intent is to gain a lot through giving a little. They give some money because they want to have wealth and give teachings because they want to have intelligence and wisdom.

If one practices giving with such thinking, one is not a bodhisattva. Such thinking comes from an ordinary being’s wandering thoughts of greed, anger, ignorance, and arrogance.

The purpose of bodhisattvas practicing giving is to let go of their wandering thoughts. When they let go of all the wandering thoughts, boundless wisdom, capabilities, and wealth innate in the true nature will naturally manifest. [Once we let go,] there is no more a need to seek or to cultivate.

When Master Huineng attained enlightenment, he said, “Who would have expected that inherent nature is originally complete in itself? . . . Who would have expected that inherent nature can produce myriad things?”13 All enjoyment is as one wishes and manifests from one’s thoughts.

When the Buddha taught giving, he was teaching us to let go of wandering thoughts and to uncover innate virtues. This is a true benefit.


A big problem with ordinary beings is that we cannot let go. Therefore, we trouble the Buddhas and bodhisattvas to use various expedient means to indirectly and tactfully help us gradually let go. Bodhisattvas set examples with their behavior to teach us to practice giving and to let go of fame, prestige, gain, wealth, the Five Desires, the Six Dusts, affliction, worry, and birth and death. When we let go of everything, we will attain great freedom.

The Diamond Sutra says: “Even the Dharma has to be laid aside, let alone worldly teachings.” “Dharma” refers to the Buddha-dharma. One should not be attached to the Buddha-dharma either. Any attachment is a mistake. The Buddha-dharma is like a boat, something we use for crossing a river. Upon reaching our destination, we should let go of the tool that got us there. The Buddha-dharma is to help us overcome difficulties. When we have done so, we should not be attached to the Buddha-dharma and should let go of it too.


“Precept observation” means abiding by laws. When one abides by laws, one will naturally have peace of mind and be free of all fears. Etiquette taught in Confucianism and the precepts taught in Buddhism are the norms for our daily behavior. The most important fundamental precepts set by the Buddha are these four: no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, and no lying. These four offenses are intrinsically wrong. Regardless of whether we have received the precepts, we commit an offense when we do any of these four acts.

The precept of not taking intoxicants is a preventive measure. When we carefully look at people who committed grave offenses, we will see that a lot of them were alcohol related—one loses reason when drunk. This was why the Buddha included not taking intoxicants as a major precept.

In addition, we should also abide by the country’s laws and customs. This way, we will get along harmoniously with others. This is the true meaning of precept observation.


“Patience” is forbearance. The Prajna Sutra says: “All accomplishments are attributed to patience.” Therefore, patience requires resolute endurance. Considerable patience is needed for any accomplishment in worldly undertakings, let alone in learning Buddhism. One must be able to exercise patience. When one is patient, one will be able to maintain a tranquil mind and advance in one’s cultivation. If one is not patient, one will not have any progress in one’s cultivation no matter how diligently one cultivates. Patience requires true effort. It is a prerequisite for meditative concentration.


The Chinese term for “diligence” is jingjin. Jing means “unadulterated” and jin means “making progress.” Many practitioners resolve to exert themselves but their efforts are unfocused. They learn many things, but they get all mixed up. This is adulterated progress, so they cannot achieve in their practice.

When one concentrates on one Dharma door, one’s progress will be rapid. For example, if a person learns only one sutra, after one year this person will achieve in his or her learning. On the other hand, if another person simultaneously learns ten sutras, his or her achievement in learning cannot compare with that of the person who concentrates on one sutra.


After one learns a sutra, for example the Amitabha Sutra, and studies it for ten years, wherever one goes in the world, people will say “Amitabha Buddha is here” or “You are Amitabha Buddha manifested.” If one learns the Ksitigarbha Sutra for ten years, one will become Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva. If one learns the “Universal Door Chapter” for ten years, one will become Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. The question is whether one is able to focus on one sutra.

People today like to learn extensively; that is, to learn many things. This concept is wrong, and such thinking will lead to failure—definitely not success.


I had a little exposure to my teacher’s lineage. I followed the teaching of my teacher Mr. Li Bingnan but not completely. Had I completely followed his teaching, I would have achieved more than I have today. I am regretful now.

In ten years I learnt five sutras under Mr. Li’s guidance. He set a rule that a student had to learn one sutra well, before starting the second sutra. What was the criterion for “learning well”? Mr. Li’s acknowledgement. If he did not think that the student had learned it well, the student had to continue learning it. As a Chinese saying goes, “If one does not listen to the advice of an elder person, one will soon suffer disadvantages.” Young people have little experience and act rashly. They do not believe the experience of older people and thus suffer disadvantages.


“Meditative concentration” means being in control and not being disturbed by the environment. In the Buddha-name chanting method, it is One Mind Undisturbed, which is a pure mind. “Wisdom” is rational and not the same as mundane intelligence. When one has wisdom, one will not make any mistake when interacting with people and engaging in tasks.


The statement “I will constantly practice the Six Paramitas of giving, precept observation, patience, diligence, meditative concentration, and wisdom” talks about the Six Perfections. The first five are about cultivation. When one cultivates according to the methods and principles, wisdom will naturally be uncovered. How does one know when one’s wisdom is uncovered? It can be seen in one’s daily life. These six are the norms for the daily behavior of a bodhisattva. When wisdom is present in giving, one will practice giving without being attached to the act of giving—“the three wheels14 are essentially empty.” This is wisdom. In observing the precepts without attachment to form, one naturally conforms to the standards of the precepts. When wisdom is present in one’s activities—in patience, in diligence, and in meditative concentration—the same applies. This way, one will truly be able to leave suffering behind and attain happiness.


“For those sentient beings who are not yet awakened, I will help them attain awakening.” For those who have not been in contact with Buddhism, we should find ways and opportunities to introduce Buddhism to them; for those who do not understand Buddhism, we should find ways and opportunities to help them understand Buddhism.


“For those who are awakened, I will help them attain Buddhahood.” For those who have learned Buddhism and aspire to quickly achieve in their practice, we should teach them the Buddha-name chanting method to help them achieve in one lifetime.


“Rather than making offerings to sages as countless as the Ganges sands, I would perseveringly and courageously seek proper enlightenment.” This sentence is very important. Many people in this world seek good fortune. They make offerings every day in order to get good fortune, longevity, and wealth. The Buddha said that it is better to have firm aspiration and confidence, and courageously and diligently seek rebirth in the Western Pure Land. When one is reborn in the Western Pure Land, one will attain Buddhahood in one lifetime.


The good fortune from making offerings to Buddhas and bodhisattvas is tremendous. But not only can we not make offerings to a Buddha or a bodhisattva today, we cannot even meet an arhat or a stream-enterer. The offerings we can make are only to the images of Buddhas or bodhisattvas. Is it possible to accrue any good fortune by making offerings to these images? It depends on how we go about making offerings.

The offerings are symbolic. The flowers offered to a Buddha image symbolize cause. Just as a plant blooms first and then bears fruit, fruit symbolizes effect. The flowers offered serve to remind us to have belief, vow, and mindfully chant the Buddha-name. This is cultivating the cause. Attaining rebirth in the Western Pure Land in the future and being close to Amitabha Buddha is the effect. Making offerings in this way will bring good fortune.


The simplest offering is a glass of water. Water serves to remind us to maintain a mind as pure, as impartial, and as tranquil as water—without the slightest dust, pollution, or ripple.


Lamps offered symbolize light. Our minds should be as just and as honorable. We should help others, even at our expense. The lamps offered should be oil lamps. The burning of oil represents sacrificing oneself to illuminate others. This is great compassion. Today, light bulbs are used and this symbolic representation [of the oil lamps] is hardly seen.


Therefore, these things seen in a Buddhist cultivation center are educational in nature and serve to remind the practitioners [of the Buddha’s teachings] at all times. But today many people forget the true meaning of the offerings. They use the offerings as a way to fawn on or to ingratiate themselves with Buddhas and bodhisattvas. A true gentleman in this mundane world would not submit himself to any ingratiating act, let alone Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Hence, we must understand the true meaning of making offerings.


  1. The Five Desires are wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep.—Trans.
  2. The Six Dusts are pollutants of the Six Senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and thought.—Trans.
  3. Three Realms: Desire, Form, and Formless realms. The Desire realm consists of the paths of hells, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, asuras, and desire heavens.—Trans.
  4. This chapter is from the Lotus Sutra.—Trans.
  5. The three kinds of afflictions refer to attachments, discriminations, and wandering thoughts respectively.—Trans.
  6. The Sutra of Hui-neng, trans. Thomas Cleary (Shambhala, Boston and London, 1998), 11.
  7. The three wheels refers to the person who gives, the person who receives the giving, and that which is given.—Trans.