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Amitabha practice: Aspirational prayer

Amitabha practice: Aspirational prayer

Part of a series of short commentaries on the Amitabha sadhana given in preparation for the Amitabha Winter Retreat at Sravasti Abbey in 2017-2018.

  • Generating a Mahayana motivation for doing the practice
  • Being clear about our purpose in wanting to be reborn in Sukhavati
  • Making our highest aspirations

We’ll continue on with the Amitabha sadhana. Yesterday we talked about how to visualize and a little bit about how to meditate when saying the mantra. And I’ll come back to that. I want to get through the whole sadhana then come back a little bit more to the meditation part of it.

What follows next in the sadhana is an aspiration. You can tell by the language that this was written by Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche. It’s classic Rinpoche. But it’s really beautiful because it just sets things out so clearly about what the path is and where we’re going and what we need to do to get there. It’s short and sweet and to the point, but very tofu-ey.

All past, present, and future gurus, Buddhas, and bodhisattvas
dwelling in the ten directions of space,
especially Amitabha Buddha and the eight great lion-like bodhisattvas,
please pay attention to me.

We start out, you’re calling all the holy beings. You’re not missing any of them. Especially Amitabha. Then there are eight great bodhisattvas: Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezig, Kwan Yin), Manjushri, Samantabhadra, Kshitigarbha, Akashagarbha, [Nivaranavishkambhin, Maitreya, Vajrapani]

It says “please pay attention to me.” Rather, this means may we pay attention to those bodhisattvas.

Wishing to liberate all mother sentient beings
from the vast ocean of samsaric suffering a
nd to lead them to the supreme joy of full awakening,

This is our motivation. It’s a Mahayana motivation, a bodhisattva motivation. We’ve developed it through practicing the meditations on the disadvantages of cyclic existence and the meditations on developing bodhicitta.

Through having that motivation:

I realize that I must become a Buddha.

If we have that motivation then the only choice is to become a buddha. There’s nothing else you want to do. Being an engineer. Being President. Those things are not your goals. Of course, if you’re a bodhisattva you may want to manifest in that way for the benefit of sentient beings. But if you have that motivation the only choice is buddhahood. Otherwise we’re either in self-complacent peace and cannot benefit sentient beings fully, or we’re in samsara where we can’t even help ourselves.

In order to do that,
I determine to take rebirth in the Land of Great Bliss
and to hear teachings directly from Amitabha Buddha.

Here it’s very clear, the purpose, why we want to be born in Sukhavati is so that we can attain buddhahood and be of the greatest benefit to sentient beings. And to attain buddhahood and be of great benefit we need to hear teachings. And being born in the retinue of Amitabha is a very good way to hear teachings. You can’t hear any teachings better than that.

This makes it very clear that the purpose of praying to be born in Sukhavati is not simply so that we can avoid the lower realms. I think this is one reason why His Holiness does not talk a lot about powa and rebirth in the pure lands, because so many people see it as a kind of heaven and their motivation is just to avoid the lower rebirth. And that’s not the proper motivation for wanting to be born in Sukhavati. It’s an okay motivation, but it’s not the real motivation that a disciple of Amitabha should have. It’s certainly better than the motivation just looking to be rich and famous in samsara. But it’s quite a limited motivation because it’s just thinking about ourselves and our own next rebirth. A bodhicitta motivation is extremely important. What Rinpoche is saying is that motivation is why we want to be reborn in Sukhavati. Not for any lesser motivation.

In order to be born there and hear teachings directly from Amitabha:

Therefore, by the force of all my past, present, and future merit collected together,
the immutable promise of all the Tathagatas,
and the power of wisdom and ultimate truth may I, at the very moment of death,
take immediate and spontaneous rebirth upon a fully opened lotus
in the presence of Amitabha Buddha’s radiant form.

This is what they call a statement of truth. You find it in the scriptures sometimes. When somebody is making a very, very firm resolution. And they’re saying…. In this case, it’s “by the force of my past, present, and future merit collected together.” All of that is fueling it. But it’s not just that, it’s also the “the immutable promise of all the Tathagatas,” the fact that all the Tathagatas have said that by accumulating merit, by learning the path, by generating compassion and altruism, then we can attain this kind of rebirth.

“By the force of my past, present, and future merit collected together, the immutable … Tathagatas…” Who are never going to lie. This is not fake news. It’s not propaganda. “And the power of wisdom and ultimate truth.” The wisdom that knows the ultimate truth, how things actually exist, that is infallible, and can never be betrayed.

All of this is being called upon to make this statement of truth. The statement is, by all of those factors, “at the very moment of death may I immediately and spontaneously take rebirth upon a fully open lotus in the presence of Amitabha Buddha’s radiant form.” That’s what we’re really aiming for here. And like I said, the purpose of aiming for that is because we want to be of the greatest benefit to sentient beings.

“At the very moment of death … to take immediate and spontaneous rebirth…” Directly. Do not pass “Go,” do not collect $200. Don’t stop at 32 Flavors on the way. You’re going directly to Sukhavati. At the time of death don’t be attached to anything in this world. If we’re attached to anything in this world–our body, our possessions, our friends and relatives, our social status–attachment to any of that at the time of death is going to be a super big hindrance. And instead, it will make another kind of karma ripen that will throw us into another kind of rebirth. We have to stay completely focused on this compassionate altruistic intention.

And what we’re praying for here…. I talked about before in Amitabha’s pure land there are nine grades of lotuses and they open at different speeds. We want grade AAA. We want the Lexus of lotuses. One that’s going to open quickly. Because who wants to stay in a closed lotus when sentient beings are suffering? Again, this aspiration is made out of compassion for all sentient beings. It’s not made out of selfish reasons: to escape some kind of discomfort ourselves, or whatever.

Having taken that kind of rebirth:

Without difficulty, may I hear teachings directly from Amitabha Buddha.

When you hear teachings directly from Amitabha Buddha you’d better stay awake. And you’d better not get distracted by passing bugs to save them. And you’d better not get distracted by the sounds of the birds chirping or the cats purring, or anything like that. So, if you’re going to be able to do that in the future, then you have to practice staying awake and paying attention to the teachings now. Because if you don’t do it now you’re not going to have the capacity to do it then. Then you’ll really be embarrassed when Amitabha says, “Hey, wake up you.”

Having been reborn in Sukhavati:

May I develop the six far-reaching practices to their ultimate completion,
and may I accomplish the ten bodhisattva stages.

Six far-reaching practices: generosity, ethical conduct, fortitude, joyous effort, meditative stability, and wisdom. Can’t find any fault with those qualities, can you? We’re saying, “may we develop these to their ultimate completion.” Meaning that we do these practices motivated by compassion and altruism, motivated by bodhicitta, and we also seal them with the recognition that the agent, the action, the object are all dependent and they are not inherently existent. We practice these in a very perfect way.

May I attain the wisdom, love, and power of myriads of Buddhas
in countless Buddha-fields more numerous than all the atoms of the universe.

We’re making our highest aspirations here. And you notice that these highest aspirations…. I mean, just talking about them, making them, does it somehow elevate your mind, and expand your mind, and make you think, “Wow, look what my human potential is.” This is very contrary to our egotistical rules of the universe, which are, “May I be the most popular person in the world. May I get a raise. May I climb the corporate ladder. May I be a great athlete even when I’m 80 years old.” This kind of stuff. It’s not that. It’s really looking at what our human potential is in this huge, enormous way, and really directing our mind towards that.

I don’t know about you, but I find when I’m just thinking about this my whole perspective on life expands. And then all the little, picky things that bug you on a day to day basis, they cease to be important, because we want to do something way beyond all of that stuff.

Since time without beginning, I have been confused and have circled in samsaric suffering.

Samsaric suffering, the cycle of rebirth created by ignorance. Since time without beginning, we’ve been confused. Are you confused? I think most people on this planet are confused. I don’t care what kind of social status they have. They’re pretty confused. Even people we rely on to not be confused are really confused.

Bound by craving and grasping, I have experienced continuous misery….

…In this cycle of rebirth. And so has everybody else.

Unless I release this deluded and grasping mind,
the Buddhas and bodhisattvas cannot be of ultimate benefit to me.

Here Rinpoche is saying you can pray all you want to the buddhas. You can say, “Amitabha I want to be born in your pure land.” But without releasing our craving, grasping mind, the buddhas can benefit us but they can’t be of the ultimate benefit because our craving, grasping mind is like one big obstacle. It’s like you’re in prison, and you’re in chains, and someone comes and says, “I have the key, I’ll unlock your chains.” And you say, “But I like my chains. Look, they’re kind of pretty. Gold and silver. They have my name engraved on them.” And so we fight. Somebody’s there to release us, and we fight release. That’s the power of the craving, grasping, angry, jealous, arrogant mind.

Nothing in samsara is certain except that all mundane pleasures die away.
This grasping and ignorant mind is the noose that binds me
to the relentless turning of the wheel of conditioned existence.

Because we’re grasping for things that by their own very nature do not last long. If we think the source of our happiness is something that, by its very nature, is changing and will go out of existence, then how are we ever going to find lasting happiness? We’re barking up the wrong tree, because we’re looking for lasting happiness in things that, by their nature, change. It’s like trying to get oil out of the sand. Of course now if you dig deep enough you can find the oil, but it’s not coming from the sand. So we’ll never find that ultimate pleasure in conditioned existence.

I yearn to go to Amitabha’s Pure Land, where even the word “suffering” does not exist,
and from where I can never again fall into samsara’s misery.

And why don’t we want to fall into samsara’s misery? Not just to protect ourselves, but because when we are stuck in samsara then we not only can NOT benefit others in a huge, enormous way, but we often wind up causing them harm because of our ignorance, anger, clinging attachment. So we’re wanting full enlightenment, full awakening, full buddhahood for the benefit of all beings.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.