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 From Slander to Devotion — Master Yuan Zhao’s Karmic Connection with the Pure Land


       During the Song Dynasty, there was a famous Precept Master named Yuan Zhao. He became a monk at a young age and delved deeply into the Buddhist canon. He was wise and learned, and strict in observing the precepts. He once made a vow to deliver sentient beings from suffering in hell rather than to enjoy  blissfulness in the lotus flower in the Land of Ultimate Bliss for ten kalpas. This vow was a manifestation of his Bodhisattva aspiration, which was admirable. Nowadays , many Buddhists also aspire to do the same. However, because of this aspiration, he looked down upon and even slandered those who recited the Buddha’s name to be reborn in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.  He did not want to be reborn there, and criticized those who wished to do so.

       Later, he fell seriously ill, and was unable to find a cure. He suffered greatly and lost his compassion to save sentient beings in hell. He was unable to meditate on emptiness, the absence of arising and ceasing, and the true nature of reality. He could only feel physical pain throughout his body. It was then that he realized his previous vow was unrealistic and empty, just a lofty ambition without any solid foundation.  It is like when we are hit by a small spark, we feel unbearable pain. How could we possibly save suffering beings in hell if we have not yet attained the non-arising of all dharmas and non-retrogress when we realize that all dharma is empty?

       Fortunately, he recovered from his illness soon after and changed his mind. He started paying attention to the scriptures and commentaries on rebirth in the Pure Land. When he read the Treatise on the Ten Doubts on the Pure Land written by Master Zhiyi of the Tiantai School, he saw a quote from The Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom, which says: “A Bodhisattva at the initial cultivation stage who has not yet attained non retrogression must stay close to the Buddha.” Another quote says, “It is impossible for a samsara bound ordinary being to save sentient beings from an evil world just because he has the compassion to aspire to do so. And the last quote says, “He is like an infant who cannot be separated from its parents, or like a fledgling with weak wings that can only cling to  branches.”

       These three quotes mean that a beginner Bodhisattva still has afflictions and vexations. He simply generates the Bodhi-mind to attain enlightenment and benefit others. Before realizing the non-arising of all dharmas, one must constantly follow the Buddha and never leave him. Only then can we ascend and progress; otherwise, we may retrogress. 

       On one hand, we have greed, hatred, and ignorance in our minds and, on the other hand, there are corrupting influences all around in our Saha world. Those who are weak must seek outside support for empowerment, just as “a fledgling can only cling to branches.” A young bird can only walk back and forth on tree branches because its wings are not yet strong enough to fly. Likewise, we are still iniquitous ordinary beings with afflictions, and we cannot deliver sentient beings in the six realms of samsara despite our having the compassionate aspiration to do so. We must first aspire to rebirth in a land with Buddha, and learn from the Buddha until we attain non-retrogression. Otherwise, we will not be able to save others and we may not even be able to save ourselves.


(Translated by the Pure Land School Translation Team;
edited by Householder Fojin)




Master Huijing

Master Huijing

Master Jingzong

Master Jingzong

Guiding Principles

Faith in, and acceptance of, Amitabha’s deliverance
Single-minded recitation of Amitabha’s name
Aspiration to rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land
Comprehensive deliverance of all sentient beings