When I first committed myself to the Pure Land method, I too found many concepts challenging, none the least the practice of continually reciting, breathing and meditating on the Buddha’s name. Nonetheless I persisted. Here is the formula I used and I pass it on to you the readers in the hope it will bring life, strength and fruits to your practice as I believe it will.
Firstly I had a strong will to change. I think this is very important. If your will to change is not strong no matter what you try will be of only small success if any at all. I had gone beyond dabbling and boutique Buddhism to a deep desire to reform my entire life.
Secondly I had to begin learning. Study is essential. Read books. Find a good teacher. Attend Dharma studies and lectures.
Thirdly, practice. Many students come to Guang Jue Temple with a background of reading but they are still disappointed. The reason is that they do not practice. Learning and practice go hand in hand but I would say that practice is far more important at the end of the day.
Fourth, observe outcomes. As you practice you will see positive changes to your life. Look for them. Evaluate them. You may find more patience, you may have a breakthrough, you may find you can meditate more easily and so on. When you observe the positive outcomes you will have more faith.
These first four is what I call the First Leg. That is, when you put one leg forward the other will follow. The will to change, the study of a method, the practice of the method and observation of the outcomes create faith. It is with this faith that the second leg will follow naturally. Momentum has been activated.
Let’s have a look at how the momentum unfolds.
Faith develops further motivation. When we are strongly motivated we put in greater effort on the whole. We develop discipline. Many practitioners find discipline hard. It is usually because it is placed out of context. When given the context of strong desire to change, practice, observable outcomes and burning motivation then discipline is not so hard after all. Discipline further strengthens the will, that desire for change and going further. The strengthening of will develops character, and character creates our Destiny. Our destiny as Pure Land practitioners is to realize the consciousness of Ultimate Bliss, the Pure Land.
Once we understand this process experientially then faith is further strengthened and our success assured. This was my own experience and since I first set out on the road to the Pure Land it has been the experience of many other practitioners. This is indeed a strong reason to belong to a Sangha where we can encourage each other and share the joys of our progress.
However, there can be many obstacles to faith along the way. One of the greatest obstacles to faith is lack of understanding and in particular the lack of the understanding of the law of Cause and Effect. The whole thrust of Pure Land Buddhism is about changing our destiny. Destiny is not some religious or philosophical idea. It is simply the outworking of causes and conditions. If I hold a pencil in my hand then relax my finger and hand muscles you will not need to be a scientist to know the outcome. Of course, the pencil will fall to the ground. That is the destiny of the pencil. As you read this piece of writing you are living your destiny, the sum total of thoughts, actions and conditions which you have put into place. However, we have lived many lifetimes and during those lifetimes we have thought and done things that have been either impure or pure. We live out the results of these previous actions and thoughts in this life time or future life times. Impure karma, attachment, greed, violence, anger and so on prevent us from living a life of Ultimate Bliss. Therefore our Pure Land Practice is squarely about creating new causes and conditions that not create pure karma but also displaces the impure karma about to take growth in the Alaya Consciousness. Our Pure Land practice is about creating a new destiny.
When we fully understand the law of Cause and Effect, when we can deeply appreciate and experience it in our life now then the faith is further strengthened and our destiny in the consciousness of Ultimate Bliss assured.“Surely you don’t believe all of this?” Yes, indeed I do, because my belief is also my experience and the experience of so many others as well as those who have gone before me. You, too, can say a loud “yes” to the question that I am sure will be asked of you by others or even by yourself. A “yes” to living life fully – the Awakened Life.