On Physical Freedom And Spiritual Ease In Pure Land 在净土之身心自由与自在 The Danger Of Misunderstanding Dharma Words 误解法语之危险

two buddha figurines
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Ask questions
to ensure you
understand well.

— Shilashanti (Part 1)

On and off, a friend shared on mindfulness of Buddha (念佛) with her mother. As she was not very responsive, there was uncertainty on how receptive she truly was. There were questions such as… Does she have doubt (疑)? Doubt would be the opposite of Faith (信). Does she have revulsion (厌恶)? Such rejection would be the opposite of Aspiration (愿). Is she willing to have Practice (行) of mindfulness of Buddha with Faith and Aspiration? After all, Faith, Aspiration and Practice are the Three Provisions (三资粮) for reaching Āmítuófó (阿弥陀佛: Amitā[bha] Buddha) Pure Land (净土).

One day, during one such sharing sessions, her mother blurted out what sounded like, ‘我不要”作”佛!我要飘来飘去!’ (I do not want to become a Buddha! I want to drift here and there!) These remarks were as ‘bizarre’ as they were disturbing at first. Why would a Buddhist not want to become a Buddha? And isn’t ‘drifting around’ what done by a restless and thus wandering spirit? Why be a ghost instead? (What more, a kind of rude slang for ghosts is ‘阿飘’, which means ‘drifting ones.’) It turned out that there was some misunderstanding and resentment suppressed.

The character for ‘作’ (zuò: become) sounds exactly the same as ‘坐’ (sit or seated). What she wanted to say was more in terms of, ‘我不要[成]坐佛!’ (I do not want to [become] a seated Buddha!) When sharing that we can all, through learning and practice in the Pure Land, ‘become Buddhas’ (作佛), this was perhaps misunderstood as the objective being to become ‘seated Buddhas’ (坐佛), as if to just meditate all the time. As she had a ‘monkey mind’ that was habitually busy, and did not know how to meditate, she fretted the idea of sitting still like many Buddha images do.

Feeling overwhelmed and kind of frustrated then, she replied the way she did. When she expressed the wish to ‘drift here and there’, what she meant was to be physically carefree (i.e. the opposite of sitting still); not to become a wandering ghost with suffering, which would be somewhat the opposite of a completely liberated Buddha with True Happiness. It was clarified that life in Pure Land is not static and ‘boring’ at all. While there is Dharma learning and practice there, there is also the supernormal power to swiftly travel widely to innumerable worlds.

According to Āmítuófó’s ‘Ninth Vow Of All Attaining Supernormal Flight’ (第九:皆得神足飞行愿), all within his Pure Land will ‘attain supernormal feet, in one thought moment, at least… able to surpass a hundred thousand koṭis of nayutas* of all Buddha lands’ (得神足,于一念顷,下至… 能超过百千亿那由他诸佛国者). (A koṭi is 10 million and a nayuta is 100 billion.) Empowered by Āmítuófó, there will be the ability to teleport to anywhere forth and back (i.e. to-and-fro) at the speed of thought. With great ease and purpose for learning, teaching and delivering other beings as a Bodhisattva (or Buddha-to-be), this is surely superior to ‘drifting’ randomly.

[*On the astronomical number mentioned in the vow, as expanded, it is ‘100 (i.e. hundred) times 1000 (i.e. thousand) times 10 million (i.e. koṭi) times 100 billion (i.e. nayuta)’, which equals to a very big number indeed, especially if there are more than 1 koṭi and 1 nayuta, as ‘(many) koṭis of (many) nayutas.’ Actually, this overall number is not a fixed limit, which is why the vow said it is that ‘able to (be) surpass(ed).’ What the vow in spirit means is that any world can be reached, so much so, that even the large number of worlds mentioned poses no obstacle at all.]

Those in the Pure Land, with Āmítuófó’s blessings, will abide in peaceful meditative concentration by default, able to deepen it easily, without needing physical stillness. As such, this case of miscommunication exemplifies the perils of misunderstanding Dharma terms, including those we might take for granted. It is thus safer to use simplier words, and to use technical terms only when really needed, defining them clearly as we go along. If not, misinterpreted words might lead to resistance towards the Right Dharma (正法), with no one knowing understanding has gone askew.

Urge questions
to ensure others
understand well.

— Shilashanti (Part 2)

Related Article:

Why Is Āmítuófó’s Pure Land The Most Interesting Place?
Why Is Pure Land Not Boring At All

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