Franklyn. S. Wu, Student of Developing Virtue High School
It is said, "Everything is difficult at the start." Whether cultivating, studying, writing an article, or doing anything else, the most difficult part is always at the beginning. Take my participation in the Vigorous Recitation Session. I felt the first two days were the most difficult to get through, while the last few days went well. Similarly, when we first start reading the Vajra Sutra, if we believe in the principle it expounds, then we will gradually understand its meaning. In cultivation, the most difficult part comes at the start: if we can bring forth the Bodhi mind to take refuge with the Triple Jewel, then eventually we can accomplish Buddhahood.
From my point of view, although the Vajra Sutra and the Vigorous Recitation Session are different Dharma doors, they lead to the same destination and they have the same function -- to teach and transform all the different kinds of living beings. By reciting the Buddha's name, on the one hand, we grow to respect Amitabha Buddha and we pray that he will help us be reborn in the western Pure Land. On the other hand, we purify our minds, reduce desires, and increase wisdom. In the seven-day Dharma Assembly, the rules of not talking, bowing one thousand bows a day, reciting for seven periods, and upholding the Eight Lay Precepts all benefit our body and mind. By keeping silent, we greatly reduce our external involvements. Fewer involvements results in fewer afflictions, greed, hatred and stupidity. Our power of precepts, concentration and wisdom then grows. The daily schedule of seven recitation periods and one thousand bows increases our samadhi power in meditation. Most of all, if we can reach the state of reciting with an unconfused mind, we can be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss in the West where we will have endless life, no suffering, no chance to do evil, and a much better chance to realize Buddhahood.
The Vajra Sutra is another Dharma door, that of emptiness. Everything is empty, even the Dharma itself. One verse in this Sutra says, "All conditioned dharmas are illusory, like dreams and bubbles, like dew and lightning. We should contemplate them in this way." All the wonderful things in the world are nothing but dreams, like dew and lightning, beautiful but unreal, gone in an instant. This serves a warning - Even if a person is a millionaire, after he passes away, his wealth will be like a pile ofexcrement. The Vajra Sutra instructs us to put down all mundane business. All the afflictions in the world come from living beings' attachments to external states, arising from greed, hatred and stupidity.
Living beings need the Buddhadharma to purify their minds. As Great Master Shen Syou of the Tang Dynasty said in verse, "The body is a Bodhi tree, the mind like a bright mirror stand. Time and again brush it clean, and let no dust alight." This is 'the state of ordinary people. The ultimate state of the Vajra Sutra is no-self, and the Buddhahood is merely a name. Nothing is certified to; only the self-nature is discovered. As the Sixth Patriarch Hwei Neng said inverse, "Originally Bodhi has no tree; the bright mirror has no stand. Originally there is not a single thing; where can dust alight?" Since there is nothing, how can there be defilement? Ultimately, even the Dharma must be renounced.
Although these are two different Dharma doors, in practice they require the same motivation of faith. In the Vajra Sutra, the importance of the faith is emphasized--if a person makes offerings with as many bodies as the sands in the Ganges River, his merit and virtue is not as great as that of a person who hears the Vajra Sutra and believes in it. From this, we can know that it difficult to have faith in the Vajra Sutra, especially since the Sutra tells us to put everything down. A worldly person without wisdom can hardly believe and follow such a principle. Since this Sutra is rather abstract, it stresses the importance of faith.
Faith is also of key importance in cultivating the harma door of reciting the Buddha's name. This Dharma door is both supreme and easy. All you have to do is chant "Namo Amitabha Buddha" without stop and sincerely bow in homage. But perhaps since it is so easy and its merit and virtue is that special, people do not believe in it. Or even if they do, they still have a little doubt in their minds. Therefore, although it appears to be simple, you need firm faith and persistence in order to be successful.
Let me talk about my personal experience. Before the Session started, I scraped my left knee and twisted my right knee. Pus flowed from the wounds when I was bowing and sitting in meditation. If I didn't have the inner faith to endure, I would soon have left the Session. All of us relied on this faith to persist until the last moment. During the seven days, it was already not easy to not eat after noon, get up early for the Morning Recitation, and bow one thousand bows a day, not to mention anything else. Faith has great strength. If you have faith, then no matter how difficult something may be, you will no longer suffer. On the contrary, you will be delighted and willing to continue.
I have some understanding and experience of faith because I used to be a Christian. My faith stemmed from my admiration of the Bible's description of Heaven. I felt it was much like the Pure Land in the West, with Saint Peter instead of the Three Sages of the West. People also enjoy endless life there. Therefore, when I heard about the Western Pure Land, I had immediate faith and frequently tested myself. Since this faith came from inside, and was not forced by others, it is true faith.
Sometimes, we ordinary people may have doubts when we do not understand the Sutras. For example, we know that in the recitation session, the more we single-mindedly recite the Buddha's name and bow to Buddha, the better. However, after reading the Vajra Sutra, we may have a doubt -- since we have to contemplate everything as empty, why do we want the recite and bow as much as possible? And why must we plant blessings and virtue? The Venerable Master answered in his Commentary on the Vajra Sutra that when we are not creating blessings and virtue, we are creating offenses. That's why we must cultivate blessings and virtue. But we should not become attached to the appearance of blessings and virtue when we cultivate it. My personal view is that without sufficient good roots, blessings, virtue, and causes and conditions, we ordinary people simply cannot attain the state of emptiness. That is why we must do good deeds to plant good roots and to accumulate blessings, virtue and causes and conditions. The day we reach that state of emptiness, everything will be done according to the Middle Way, in a most natural manner. We will no longer become attached to appearances, nor have the thought that we are cultivating blessings and virtue. Therefore, although everything is empty, it is necessary to accumulate virtue.
The merit and virtue of the Vigorous Recitation Session is supreme. But some people in the session compete with others to see who bows and recites the most; others participate in the session only for their own benefit. Such people not only gain no merit and virtue, they also create offenses. When people want to contend, or put self-benefit first, the three poisons of greed, hatred and stupidity appear in their minds and cover their self-nature; then it is easy for them to create offenses and get afflicted. During a Recitation Session, we cannot have any thought of seeking; we must consider others. The number of bows and recitations one makes concern one's own progress, and have nothing to do with other people. Although we transfer the merit and virtue to all living beings, we cannot be attached to the mark of giving, nor think of ourselves. As the Vajra Sutra says, "When a Bodhisattva who does not abide in marks practices giving, his blessings and virtue are thus incalculable." As revealed in this verse, we must all practice true giving and cultivate real merit and virtue.
In my rough and superficial analysis, we may say these two Dharma doors reach the same destination through different means; they are basically the same with minor differences. They are just names, while the self-nature is one. We may regard the Vajra Sutra as a theory, and a vigorous recitation session as a practical method. The aim of both is for us to put down all involvements and attachments and restore our original Buddha nature, so that we can end birth and death, leave suffering and attain bliss. As long as we have the good roots, causes and conditions, and faith needed to practice according to the Dharma door, we can ultimately eradicate afflictions, discover the self-nature and realize Buddhahood.