The last wishes in the will of Master Shengyen (1930-2009), the founder of Dharma Drum Mountain, conveys a number of profound lessons (http://www.ddm.org.tw/event/master_shengyen/en/will.html). The following is the text in the very first section:
‘After I pass away, do not issue the obituary notice, make meal offerings, build the grave, stupa, or monument, erect my statues, or collect my relics, if any. Please invite one to three eminent elder Dharma masters to respectively preside over the rituals of sealing the coffin, bidding farewell, cremation, ash burial, and so forth. All this must be carried out in a simple, frugal manner, and never in an extravagant and wasteful way. In the mourning hall, only hang an elegiac plaque with the words “Quiescent Cessation Is Blissful” written by a calligrapher as an encouragement. Request people not to present flowers or elegiac couplets, but just recite “Namo Amitabha Buddha” to form pure affinities for rebirth in the Western Pure Land.’
To summarise his intentions above, Master Sheng Yen hoped for a simple funeral that reduced expenses, waste, hassle and even excess veneration. Though the words ‘Quiescent Cessation Is Blissful’ which describe the state of Nirvana’s peaceful happiness were to serve as a reminder of our ultimate goal, probably his final lesson to us is in these words – ‘Just recite “Namo Amitabha Buddha” to form pure affinities for rebirth in the Western Pure Land.’ ‘Namo Amituofo’ are the very words he wishes us to ‘bid him farewell’ with. And a powerful lesson this is indeed, filled with compassion and wisdom from probably the most influential Chan (Chinese Zen) master of our times. Though he is better known for his teaching of Chan meditation, he clearly saw the great importance of creating strong affinities for being born in Pure Land – especially for the general Dharma practitioner, as represented by anyone who hears his advice above.
There is no contradiction between practising the Chan teachings with the Pure Land teachings. In fact, they reinforce each other, though it is also crucial to have either the Chan or Pure Land teachings as one’s main practice, that one adheres to firmly. Comparatively, the Pure Land teachings are both simpler and safer as they offer sacred assistance from the ‘Other Power’ of Amitabha Buddha’s immeasurable compassion. Goal wise, while Chan practitioners hope to attain Nirvana in this lifetime, the first goal of Pure Land practice is less demanding – to attain birth in Pure Land, where Nirvana will surely be attained in that lifetime with the personal tutelage of the enlightened.
The ‘last’ words ‘Just recite “Namo Amitabha Buddha”‘ are really a powerful admonition to all fellow Buddhists to pay attention to the urgency of securing rebirth in Pure Land. Even though the slogan of Dharma Drum is ‘to uplift the character of humanity, to build a Pure Land on Earth’, Master Sheng Yen also taught on the great benefits of being born in Pure Land, and wrote books on the subject. There is essentially no contradiction between striving our best to make this world a Pure Land now, while seeking birth in Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land when this life comes to a close – so as to train well there, to become a qualified and liberated Bodhisattva, before returning to better continue the mission of transforming this world. Whenever we remember Master Sheng Yen, and wish to express our gratitude to him, may we ‘Just recite “Namo Amitabha Buddha”‘ – for this would be fulfilling his wish – that we secure our future life, so as to better help more beings beyond this lifetime.