Out of Suffering Comes an Epiphany
By Householder Jingxin
As we know, Shakyamuni Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths during the beginning stages of his Dharma discourses. One of them is on the existence of suffering, of which there are four types: birth, old age, illness, and death, which are what ordinary beings born in the Saha World must experience. When the karmic wind of illness blows our way, how should we face it? How should we bear it? This is an issue much worth pondering.
I am a simple person, and my life has been smooth since I was a child. In the second year of our marriage, my husband's physical examination revealed that he had incurable Parkinson's disease. That was thirty years ago, and he has remained ill ever since. During the first ten years, the symptoms were mild, and he was fine physically. However, afterward, his condition started to deteriorate. His hands and feet would shake uncontrollably, and his muscles became stiff and painful. Although the doctor added new prescriptions, his conditions fluctuated over all these years; this tortured him not only physically but also psychologically.
As the saying goes, "If you are seriously ill, you will find any doctor and pray in every temple." We have also tried folk remedies but to no avail. I know that this, by the law of karma, is our retribution from past lives. Every day, I would recite sutras, mantras, and Amitabha’s name, then dedicate the merits to my husband and his karmic creditors. I hoped that I could help him alleviate his suffering by helping his karmic creditors to escape from theirs and attain happiness. I worked during the day and took care of my husband and two children at night. I then began to do my homework of accumulating merits for him. After a while, I would feel exhausted.
Once I participated in a merit dedication activity by reciting Amitabha’s name a million times. During the recitation at night, my face became so pale that I almost fainted. It made me think, “Is this practice correct? Is it suitable for me?”
However, 2009 became the luckiest year of my life, because I encountered the pristine Pure Land Buddhism - Amitabha’s primal vow to deliver all sentient beings equally as taught by Master Shandao. I was filled with joy to receive this priceless treasure. From then on, I completely let go of what I had learned, relied on Amitabha, surrendered myself to him, and recited his name with peace of mind.
Of course, I am still an ordinary being committing karmic offenses, thereby surrounded by greed, hatred, delusion, arrogance, and doubt all the time. Because of his illness, my husband has retired early. Rather than being beaten down by and complaining about the outside negativities, I calmly faced the facts and spent every busy day gratefully.
As a small, ordinary being, whenever troubled or mistreated, I will face it two ways:
First, I talk to Amitabha. As the saying goes, “Offer food for the hungry, and express yourself to a wise, intimate friend.” Amitabha IS my intimate friend. Before starting my evening recitations, I pour my heart out and beseech him to give me wisdom and strength; then do I start. The more I recite his name, the more his light shines upon me, and the happier I feel, and the so-called “afflictions” disappear.
Second, I read literary works published on Pure Land Buddhism. Whenever troubled or puzzled, I go to the study room or the Buddha’s hall and quietly read the articles written by Master Huijing, Master Jingzong, and Pure Land Patriarchs. Sometimes, reading fills me with joy. However, in many cases, it acts as a “mirror” leading me to reflect on and feel ashamed of myself. I realized that “the world has no trouble or angst; we only bring it upon ourselves!”
Master Huijing said:
“Many Buddhists still suffer from disaster and sickness. Why haven’t their fates changed? This is because they haven’t studied Buddhism mindfully or repented their transgressions wholeheartedly. Instead, they blame and complain about others who they think owe them something and are coming to harm them. They feel that others are responsible for their own disappointments. So, how can they expect their destiny to change?”
Master Huijing hit the nail on the head pointing out the mentality of ordinary people: when encountering troubles - disasters, illnesses, and disappointments - they cannot face the reality of the situation rationally, hold themselves accountable, or face the consequences as karmic retribution; therefore, they only suffer more!
How should we “think” correctly? How do we change our “mind”? The answer is to recite Amitabha’s name. I learned that by doing so earnestly, by the name’s subtle influence, proper thoughts and, therefore, the “right mind” will arise, filling us with positive energy. We can then face everything with a better mindset.
Master Tanluan has a verse that says:
I have been immersed in the three domains since beginningless time
Endlessly tumbling in samsara.
The karma created by every single thought in every single moment is enough for me
To be firmly bound in the six realms and three domains.
Even a great Patriarch such as Master Tanluan said that he was an ordinary being having committed karmic offenses, thereby reincarnating within the three wretched domains. How much more so is the case with us “ordinary beings in the Dharma ending age”!
Our suffering as humans comes from ignorance, but we cling to it. As a result, we descend into the bottomless abyss of the six realms of samsara, unable to free ourselves.
Amitabha Buddha is our “great doctor.” His six-character name, with its myriad merits and virtues, is an “agada” medicine, able to “cure all diseases.” The root cause of all disease, including birth and death, is ignorance. Reciting Amitabha’s name can sever it, thereby emancipating us from the bitter sea of samsara.
Master Shandao’s Commentary on the Contemplation Sutra says:
“All ordinary beings, no matter how much offense karma they have committed, for however long, if they single-mindedly recite Amitabha’s name for the remainder of their lives, whether as long as a hundred years or as short as seven days or even one day, will undoubtedly gain rebirth in the Land of Bliss.”
In this lifetime, I am so fortunate to have encountered the Dharma door of universal deliverance according to the compassionate Amitabha’s fundamental vow, having realized that he has never left or abandoned me. Today, I am finally awakened!
Relinquishing my self-power and relying entirely on Amitabha’s through recitation of his name makes me calm and soft, because I know that Amitabha has made a solemn vow for all of us sentient beings and achieved the goal of our rebirth in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. If we have faith in and accept Amitabha’s deliverance, exclusively recite his name, and aspire to be reborn in his Pure Land, we will obtain all of the merits attributed to rebirth. In other words, “rebirth is assured all of one’s life, and non-retrogression is assured in this lifetime.” There is no doubt that faith in and acceptance of Amitabha’s deliverance, wanting rebirth in his Pure Land, and exclusive recitation of his name guarantee rebirth.
My husband’s suffering taught me gratitude. Every day, he thanks me for taking care of him, while I thank him for being the medium through which I can ace adversity with strength. It helped me realize that, through and through, I am an ordinary being who commits karmic offenses. Thus relying on Amitabha and reciting his name, we entrust all our family members to him, letting him be our master and arrange everything for us.
Life is short, but I am fortunate to not have lived mine in vain! I am grateful to Amitabha’s deliverance and the guidance of our masters! Amitabha is alongside us on the road of recitation! In my last physical existence, I will fulfill my obligations and recite Amitabha’s name with peace of mind to repay his grace!
Namo Amitabha Buddha!
(Translated by the Pure Land School Translation Team;
edited by Eddie Cao)
- Recitation of Amitabha’s name, relying on his Fundamental Vow (the 18th)
- Rebirth of ordinary beings in the Pure Land’s Realm of Rewards
- Rebirth assured in the present lifetime
- Non-retrogression achieved in this lifetime
The 18th Vow of Amitabha Buddha
If, when I achieve Buddhahood, sentient beings of the ten directions who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, wish to be reborn in my land and recite my name, even ten times, should fail to be born there, may I not attain perfect enlightenment. Excepted are those who commit the five gravest transgressions or slander the correct Dharma.
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