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The Treatise On Ten Doubts About Pure Land

Written by Sui Dynasty’s Tiantai Tradition’s Great Master Zhizhe (538–597 CE)
Translated to English by Upāsaka Shen Shi’an (2014 CE)
[This improved version replaces previous versions]

疑: 十念得生疑
The Eighth Doubt: Doubt Of Attaining Birth With Ten Thoughts Of Mindfulness


Question: Sentient beings have, since beginninglessness, created immeasurable evil karma. In this present lifetime, receiving karmic retribution, not coming across good-knowing friends, they once again make all kinds of karmic transgressions, with no evil not created. How is it then, when approaching the end of life, with accomplishment of ten thoughts with mindfulness [of Amitā(bha) Buddha (Amituofo)], they will immediately attain rebirth [in his Pure Land], to transcend the three spheres? Of the matter of ending [effects of] their evil karma, how is this to be understood?

释曰 :「众生无始已来,善恶业种,多少强弱,并不得知。但能临终,遇善知识,十念成就者,皆是宿善业强,始得遇善知识,十念成就。

Answer: Sentient beings have, since beginninglessness, planted seeds of good and evil karma, of which much or little, powerful or weak, is not known at all. As long as they are able to, when approaching the end of life, meet good-knowing friends, and accomplish ten thoughts with mindfulness [of Amitā(bha) Buddha (Amituofo)], all these are due to their past good karma being powerful. Only then, are they able to meet good-knowing friends, and accomplish ten thoughts with mindfulness [of Amitā(bha) Buddha (Amituofo)].


If they have much evil karma, good-knowing friends cannot even be come across. How can there be speak of accomplishing ten thoughts with mindfulness [of Amitā(bha) Buddha (Amituofo)] then?


Moreover, you assume that since beginninglessness, evil karma created is heavy, that when approaching the end of life, ten thoughts with mindfulness [of Amitā(bha) Buddha (Amituofo)] is light. Now, with reasoning, using three kinds of measures, it should be known that lightness and heaviness are not fixed, not dependent on the duration of time being long or short, or the karma being much or little. What are the three? First, is Dependence On Mind. Second, is Dependence On Conditions. Third, is Dependence On Certainty.


For Dependence On Mind, when creating transgressions, this arises from personal, false, deluded and inverted thoughts. For those who are mindful of Buddha, this arises from good-knowing friends, from whom they hear speak of Amitā[bha] Buddha’s [Amituofo] true and meritorious name. As one is false and one is true, how can they be compared?


For example, a dark room of ten thousand years, can have sunlight of a short duration enter, and yet immediately119 eradicate the darkness. How can a long period of darkness refuse to be eradicated?


For Dependence On Conditions, when creating transgressions, from the false, deluded and dark mind, this conditionally arises from false and deluded conditions of inverted thoughts. For the mind that is mindful of Buddha, from hearing [Amitā(bha)] Buddha’s [Amituofo] pure, true and meritorious name, this conditionally arises from unsurpassable Bodhicitta. As one is true and one is false, how can they be compared?


For example, there is a person shot by a poisonous arrow, with the arrow being deep and the poison having seeped in, injuring the muscles and breaking bones. Once hearing the medicinal drum120 that eradicates poison, immediately will the arrow be removed and the poison be eradicated. How can, with the arrow being deep and the poison having seeped in, yet refuse to be extracted?


For Dependence On Certainty, when creating transgressions, it is with interrupted thoughts and after-thoughts.121 When mindful of [Amitā(bha)] Buddha [Amituofo], it is with uninterrupted thoughts and no after-thoughts, that one immediately renounces this life. With this good mind that is powerful, there is thus immediate birth [in his Pure Land].


For example, a rope that takes ten persons to embrace cannot be snapped by one thousand persons. However, a child who wields a sword, can in an instant, cut it into two parts.


Moreover, like firewood accumulated over one thousand years, with fire as small as one bean, after only a little while, can be completely burnt.


Moreover, like a person, who since birth, had cultivated the Ten Good Deeds, and should attain birth in a heaven, but when approaching the end of life, gives rise to a thought with a certain evil view, this person can immediately fall into Avīci Hell.122 Evil karma, although false and deluded, due to its power, is still able to ‘rid’ one lifetime’s good karma, to enable fall into an evil path.123


Furthermore, when approaching the end of life with powerful mindfulness of Buddha, that such true and uninterrupted good karma, is not able to ‘rid’ beginningless evil karma, to attain birth in Pure Land, this is not possible.


Moreover, it is said124 that, ‘One thought with mindfulness of [Amitā(bha)] Buddha [Amituofo] eradicates transgressions of eighty koṭis125 of kalpas of birth and death.’ As when mindful of Buddha, with this mind thus powerful, it subdues and extinguishes evil karma,126 for definite attainment of birth [in his Pure Land], there is no need for doubt.


From ancient times, passed down was the judgement that the accomplishment of ten thoughts with mindfulness [of Amitā(bha) Buddha (Amituofo)] is for attaining birth [in his Pure Land] in another time.127 This definitely cannot be so. How is this known?


The Compendium Treatise128 says, ‘Due to only giving rise to aspiration, [this is] completely without practice.’


The Miscellaneous Collection Treatise129 says, ‘If [one] aspires for birth in the Land Of Peace And Bliss,130 [one] will swiftly attain rebirth there. If [one] is mindful of Stainless Buddha’s name, [one] will swiftly attain Anut[tarā Samyak Saṃ]bodhi.’


Together, these are causes of [effects in] other times,131 [as they are] completely without practice.132


If however, to regard, when approaching the end of life, the powerful and good practice of ten uninterrupted thoughts with mindfulness [of Amitā(bha) Buddha (Amituofo) for birth in his Pure Land] to mean another time,133 how grave a mistake this is!134


May all practitioners deeply contemplate this reasoning, to personally guard your minds, and do not believe in different views, or you will personally fall to be trapped.


119   … and suddenly
120   A healing instrument
121   … of creating transgressions again later, in this present life or a future life
122   Lowest hell with greatest, longest and uninterrupted suffering
123   … by bearing effect first, delaying other weaker karma
124   … in the Contemplation Sūtra (See Note 67 on Page 39)
125   Koṭi: About 10,000,000; unit of 10 million
126   … by ‘diluting’ limited and weaker evil karma with Amitā(bha) Buddha’s (Amituofo) immeasurable and much stronger merits (meritorious virtues)
127   … in some further future life, instead of the immediate next
128   Mahāyāna Saṃgraha Śāstra 摄大乘论
129   Mahāyāna Abhidharma Samuccaya Śāstra 大乘阿毘达磨杂集论
130   … in Amitā(bha) Buddha’s (Amituofo) Pure Land [Note that truly complete Aspiration would include complete Faith, and should express complete Practice. The Three Provisions (三资粮) of Faith (信), Aspiration (愿) and Practice (行) are crucial for birth in Pure Land.]
131   … as conditions between the causes and effects are not yet present
132   … as needed before they can be accomplished
133   Refers to deferment of reaching Pure Land despite Practice then (or deferment of Practice)
134   This right Practice of utmost sincere (wholehearted and single-minded) mindfulness with right Faith and right Aspiration is crucial now, and especially when approaching the end of life. It will be adequate for attaining birth in Pure Land, even if without much or any Practice in the discernible past, although successful last minute cases should have given rise to some Faith, Aspiration and/or Practice earlier in this present life or a past life. If there is little or no sincere Faith that one can reach Pure Land in the immediate next life, there will be lack of sincere Aspiration and sincere Practice too, thus not having the Three Provisions (See Note 130 above) to reach Pure Land. This teaching is not to say it is advisable to be less diligent in our regular Practice, or that last minute Practice alone should suffice, as conditions then will be more challenging without regular Practice. This reminds us that we should be more diligent in encouraging those dying but without much or any Practice (including ourselves, if this applies), to give rise to the Three Provisions in time. As death can occur at any time, all should be diligent in nurturing the Three Provisions now.

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